The Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach City Prosecutor and the Long Beach Police Department have made a PACT against chronic truancy issues in the school system — an issue big cities battle daily.
PACT, or Parent Accountability and Chronic Truancy Program, began this January, and officials said early indications have been positive for the program.
California Penal Code 270.1 (in effect since January) triggered the new partnership program. The law is a new tool to fight chronic truancy (defined as a child who misses 10% of their school year with no excuses), which was previously tended to in juvenile courts.
“For the first time, a law allows for parents to be prosecuted when their kids are deemed chronically truant,” City Prosecutor Doug Haubert said. “I can prosecute the parents if I can show some proof that the parent has failed to reasonably supervise the child.”
The law applies to children in kindergarten through eighth grades — high school students were deemed too old and potentially strong to be controlled by parents, Haubert said. It would be up to the city prosecutor’s office to show that the school district followed proper procedure in notifying the student and his or her parents. The maximum penalty under the new law is one year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
There are no official cases or rulings with 270.1, but Haubert said he was eager to work with school and police officials to give it an impact. PACT was formed as a way to let parents know about the new consequences, while also giving students and parents more of an opportunity to change the course of their chronic truancy, officials said.
Initially, all parents receive two formal letters (penned by Haubert) explaining to them what justifiable absences are and also about the new law. The individual school will exhaust its own means: Sending letters, making calls to the home and scheduling conferences at the school.
If the problem persists, it goes to Dr. Richard Tebbano, administrator of the Child Welfare and Attendance Office. Eventually, SARB (School Attendance Review Board), which consists of different members of the entities affected, may hold a hearing for the student. If the problem still persists, then it moves on to the new steps of PACT.
Some of the idea is that the urgency increases as the parents and students climb the ladder of the new process, officials said. After SARB, they must come to the city prosecutor’s office and meet with Haubert, Tebbano, a school official and an LBPD officer.
By taking a hands-on approach before filing any court paperwork, Haubert said, he hopes the extra step can avoid going before a judge altogether.
“That message and a follow-up date is kind of helpful — that seems to be effective,” he said.
So far, there have been four students who have made it that far in the process, Tebbano said. So far, they have avoided a court date.
“The feedback I’m getting, the calls I’m getting, the input from schools is that the parents are aware of the law,” Tebbano said. “When they come to SARB, we ask them if they know, and they do. They know it’s a misdemeanor now.”
The police department also has been proactive.
Since October of last year, detectives of the LBPD Youth Services Section have been working with several middle schools (financed with grant money). In these cases, detectives have counseled 219 students and visited the homes of 137 students (through April 25, 2011), said Sgt. Robert Gallagher.
“We are optimistic that this positive influence has encouraged the students to attend school on a regular basis. However, 72 habitual truancy citations were issued to the students that did not improve,” he said.
Recently, the Los Angeles Police Department came under criticism for its truancy sweeps, where students would be cited even if they were going toward the school and within an hour of being late. LBPD officials said that is not the case here.
“LA has had very aggressive methods,” said Lt. Ty Hatfield, Youth Services Section. “We have chosen a more balanced approach…The only time we do sweeps is in response to increased crime issues — mostly residential burglaries. Individually, officers will cite truants, but we look at the totality of their circumstances.”
Hatfield said it can be tough to have these interventions, because there often are many reasons for a student’s lack of attendance.
“Sometimes, believe it or not, the older child is watching younger children who can’t go to school yet,” he said. “Sometimes the parent has just given up with the challenges. There might be a medical issue going on with the parent.
“It kind of opens up our eyes to get in the home and get with the parents to find out what’s really going on.”
All the officials said their goals were not to prosecute, but to find out why the problem is occurring, and to fix it.
“I’m absolutely encouraged and really excited that there is this partnership,” Tebbano said. “We now have a something after SARB that will send a message that there are consequences and penalties after the meeting. Before, we didn’t have that.
“Our goal is not to prosecute, but to turn their attendance around and help parents with the process.”