Should students have to pay $250 for being late to class? How 'bout $800?
The LA City Council Public Safety Committee thinks not and voted Monday in favor of Councilman Tony Cardenas's long-awaited proposal to change LA's hefty truancy fines.
Under the current system, police officers can search, handcuff and detain students who are late to class and then slap them with a fine upwards of $250 to $800. What's worse: the fine often comes with a mandated court appearance, which means more time outside of the classroom for students.
Instead of a fine, Cardenas's plan proposes that a first and second violation face either a plan for how to improve attendance or community service, tutoring or attending an after-school program, CBS reports. A third violation would face a fine of no more than $180.
Cardenas explained that, for some families, the fees are so expensive that they deter students from going to school if they are late. Cardenas, whose plan plan will be voted on Feb. 21 by the full City Council, said, "With court fees and penalties, the exorbitant costs of truancy violations can be a whole month's worth of groceries for some families," Patch reports (see video above).
There have also been statistics cited by civil rights groups that the truancy law targets black and Latino students, Mercury News reports. In response, Cardenas's plan requires that the LAPD publish statistics twice a year showing the age, race and gender of each student issued a ticket.
Outside the Committee's meeting Monday, about 100 high school students protested, some as graduates in caps and gowns and some in orange jail jumpsuits. The five-member panel heard testimony from students, parents and advocates who argued that being late to class is not a crime, the Los Angeles Times reports.
One student, 18-year-old Nabil Romero, told his account of being taken in a police car and being given a $350 ticket after being late because he had to take two buses to school because his single mother couldn't drive him, KPCC reports. Romero, who is now a biochemistry student at West LA College, missed school again and his mother had to take off work the day they had to go to court. Romero shared that, in order to pay the fine, "We started cutting back on food expenses, clothes expenses, shoes. This was all my fault for not being in class."