Truant Corral : Schools and Police Hail Surprise Roundups of AWOL Glendale Pupils

Times Staff Writer

With eyes swollen and red from quiet sobbing, the 16-year-old Glendale high school truant waited anxiously in the makeshift detention center, dreading his mother's arrival.

The teen-ager had skipped school earlier that morning to visit a friend, but a Glendale police officer spotted him and hauled him to the temporary holding center at the school district's administration building.

"My parents are going to beat me," the sophomore at Allan Daily Continuation High School said, brushing away a new flow of tears.

Similar scenes have become common in Glendale since school administrators and police joined forces two years ago to battle truancy with periodic, unannounced patrols called the Truancy Intervention Program (TIP).

Once or Twice a Month

The sweeps occur once or twice a month. The schedule is kept secret.

If youngsters are spotted off campus during school hours without school-issued permission slips, police cart them to the detention center until a parent or guardian retrieves them and returns them to school. The student then meets with the school's vice principal, who issues punishment, ranging from after-school work to suspension.

The program is similar to ones in Los Angeles, Long Beach, Inglewood and other school districts.

Since TIP began in March, 1985, more than 500 minors, ages 6 to 17, have been plucked from city streets, parks, video arcades, shopping malls and other hangouts and placed back in the classroom, said William B. Card, coordinator of attendance for Glendale schools.

It is designed to remind students that the district feels attendance is very important, said school Supt. Robert Sanchis. He called the program "a way of showing students that the community is working together to encourage and make sure students are in school."

From Diverse Backgrounds

Truants in Glendale come from diverse backgrounds, school officials and police say. Some are successful students out for a day of fun. Others repeatedly cut classes because they are bored or doing poorly in school. Still others are just looking for excitement.

Administrators say they are confident that TIP has contributed significantly to an increase in school attendance throughout Glendale, which has climbed from 97.2% during the 1985-86 school year to 98.4% since January.

The cost of the program is minimal. Because California schools receive state funds based on the number of students in attendance, the program actually generates money for the district, officials say.

However, the amount of state money TIP has recovered is difficult to calculate because it is one of several efforts to lower truancy and dropout rates in Glendale schools, said Gary Hess, director of student services for the district.

Replaces Earlier Phone Call

Before TIP, parents of absent youngsters received only a phone call from the district. Administrators say that requiring parents to retrieve their children leads to more parental involvement in students' attendance habits.

When the mother of the nervous Allan Daily Continuation High student arrived at the center, she was as angry as her son predicted she would be.

"I didn't expect this, it's a shocker," she said, shaking her head in disbelief. Nevertheless, she said she was grateful she was notified.

It was just before 9 a.m. on a sunny Thursday late in March when a team of eight officers climbed into their patrol cars, some unmarked, to begin the search for errant students. The morning began slowly, but, within two hours the officers had hauled in a dozen, mostly from the Glendale Galleria mall. By noon they had corralled 13 more.

The officers marched the pupils into the temporary holding room and turned them over to school officials. An attendance worker, posted behind a check-in table, asked each student's name, age, school and parents' phone number while another verified the information on a district computer. Then the youngsters were told to sit around a large table and wait quietly while two district workers, in a separate smaller office, telephoned their parents.

"I think my mom's going to be upset, she'll yell," predicted one nervous 16-year-old from Glendale High School who, along with two of her girlfriends, was loaded in the back seat of a black-and-white at about 10 o'clock that morning in front of the school.

The sophomore and her two friends contended that they were not playing hooky, but that they had left campus during the brief morning recess to pick up a duplicate set of car keys after one of the girls locked her original set in the trunk of her car. While driving back to the school, officers pulled them over for speeding and called a truancy unit to collect them.

'This Is So Stupid'

"This is so stupid! So stupid," snapped the girl with the misplaced keys. "We were going in the direction of school when they picked us up. My parents aren't home; there's no way of contacting anybody. . . . I've missed four classes now. When they picked me up, I hadn't missed any classes."

When the parents arrive at the center to pick up their children, administrators speak briefly with each of them, explaining that state law requires minors to attend school and outlining the importance of regular attendance. In some cases, officials refer the family to counseling services offered by the district.

Most parents, although upset at their child, are grateful to be notified of his or her absence, said Card.

"I think it's great," said one mother. "Too many of the kids are literally getting into too much trouble during the day. A sweep like this might keep them out of trouble."

"If they hadn't pulled him in, I wouldn't have known," she said, tossing an angry glance at her 15-year-old son, who was spotted visiting a convenience store near Roosevelt Junior High School.

Williams said police support truancy patrols because they help curtail the daytime crime rate, especially burglaries.

Decrease in Burglaries

"We have noticed that the day we do a truancy sweep and the two days immediately following there is a drop in the number of daytime burglaries," he said. "A high truancy rate equals a high daytime crime rate. When the truancy level is down, the daytime crime rate is down."

In the past two years, officers have arrested 13 truants in possession of drugs. Those truants, however, are taken to the police station rather than to the detention site.

The first district employee to greet the often angry parents when they go to retrieve their children is Geri Tucker, a switchboard operator in the lobby of the administration building. Tucker is also the last to see them leave--most of them "fit to be tied" and spewing "words, rotten words" at their errant children, she said.

Sometimes, the parents "look like they're going to strangle them," she said.

When TIP began, it was common for officers to seize more than 50 students in each unannounced sweep. The catch has dropped considerably this year, with the patrols in February and March netting only 23 and 25 students, respectively.

Officials hail the low numbers as an indication of the program's success.

'Sweep Is Working'

"I have to make the assumption that the sweep is working," said Lt. Wayne D. Williams, juvenile bureau commander and TIP coordinator for the Glendale Police Department.

Rick Young, a school resource officer for the Glendale police who has participated in every truancy sweep since the program began, said he, too, has noticed a decline in the number of students roaming the streets.

"During one of the first," he said of the sweeps, "I picked up about 14 kids. They weren't used to us then. But now, it's really cut way back," he said.

Officials also point out that not all truants rounded up are Glendale pupils. Of the 48 truants picked up during the last two sweeps, 11 came from schools outside the district. They also are detained until their parents or guardians retrieve them.

A local car dealer's advertised promises of easy credit approval lured a 16-year-old El Monte student and his 18-year-old brother the 20 miles from home. But their shopping venture was cut short when a police car rolled up to the lot and the officer carted the younger brother to the detention center.

"At first, I was going to take off," the 16-year-old said. "But then I thought, 'Hey, I'm not doing anything wrong.' Next thing I know, I was handcuffed."

"I thought they thought he was stealing a car," the older brother said.

Some Handcuffed for Safety

Officers sometimes handcuff older, unfamiliar teen-age truants for safety reasons, Williams said.

The Glendale Galleria has proven a popular draw for out-of-town truants, like one 14-year-old Los Angeles student and his three friends who were recently picked up by Galleria police moments after setting foot in the mall.

"We just wanted to check out video games," said a 14-year-old Los Angeles student who was picked up at the Glendale Galleria with three friends recently, moments after setting foot in the mall.

The Galleria is one favorite hangout, but truants are often discovered near the schools, where they can easily meet their friends. Surprisingly, others hide out at the city library, Williams said. Recently, the lieutenant found a student at the library who had cut class to finish a school report.

He shook his head, chuckling. "They go there to do their school work, if you can believe that."

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