Truancy tickets prove costly for Los Angeles students

By Catherine Cloutier

police car

Last December, a police officer pulled aside Christopher Padilla as he walked to classes at Roosevelt High School.

The 17-year-old senior had just reached the border of the school zone, and said he was just “20 steps from the school entrance.”

“He said, ‘Why are you late to school today?’” Padilla recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know,’ and got into the [police] car.”

Listen to Christopher Padilla's "In His Own Words" account of his arrest:

And Padilla was late to school—15 minutes, that is.

But more importantly, he was a minor.

In 1995, the Los Angeles City Council enacted Section 45.04 of the city municipal code, otherwise known as the “Daytime Curfew Law.”

Under the Daytime Curfew Law, students under the age of 18, who are subject to compulsory education, are prohibited from frequenting public places during school hours.

The original language of the code stipulated that the curfew lasted from 8:30 a.m. until 1:30 p.m., but in 2008, Councilwoman Jan Perry amended it to extend from “bell to bell.”

Offenders are summoned to the informal Los Angeles Juvenile and Traffic Court, where court referees award warnings, community service or fines as punishments. Fines start at $250.

Between 2004 and 2009, the Los Angeles School Police Department gave out 13,118 citations, summons, and/or tickets, according to Community Rights Campaign data. The Los Angeles Police Department dispensed nearly 34,000 tickets betwen 2004 and 2007.

In theory, the law penalizes habitual truant students. In reality, it punishes tardy students.

“I’ve had students whose tickets are from 7:40 a.m. The bell rings at 7:30,” said Zoe Rawson, a Labor and Community Strategy Center attorney who has represented several students in truancy ticket cases.

“The majority of tickets I’ve had have been from 8:30. The latest may be 9:00 or 9:30. One of the reasons is that’s when the police are outside of the school. So, it’s both the time and the location.”

L.A. Unified is one of the few districts nationwide to employ its own police force. But in the majority of cases, LAPD is enforcing the curfew.

In fact, the school police recently placed a moratorium on truancy tickets.

But LAPD is continuing to ticket students en masse, especially during “tardy sweeps.”

Jorge Lopez, a social studies teacher at Roosevelt High School, said that once a month, LAPD officers do a “round-up” of tardy students in the neighborhood, ticketing 20 to 30 students in one day.

Roosevelt High School has the highest number of students being ticketed for truancy.

“I felt a great sense of urgency to address this issue now that our school is being targeted and a disproportionate number of students are being ticketed,” Lopez said.

Santee Educational Complex in South Los Angeles also has high ticket rates. Both schools are members of Mayor Villaraigosa’s Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

“If a student goes to a heavily policed school, he or she is more likely to get a ticket,” Rawson said, adding that the fine increases with each ticket.

For this reason, ticketing rates are higher in South and East Los Angeles.

LAPD Divisions with the Highest Truancy Ticketing Rates:

Truancy Tickets in Los Angeles on Dipity.