Late students came back to school with a new truancy model this fall after a judge found that giving students fines was doing more harm than good. The new program took Alhambra Unified School District's highly successful more holistic approach as a model, KPCC reports.
LAUSD's previous law was designed to prevent tardiness, but was having the opposite impact and a judge's report found that LAPD and school police disproportionately targeted Latino and African American students.
In contrast, while LA's truancy levels increased, Alhambra's fell: "In the 2008-2009 school year, 29 percent of Alhambra Unified’s students weren’t showing up to school consistently – over a third higher than in LA County," Omar Shamout reported for KPCC. "In approximately 18 months that number fell by a whopping 61 percent."
AUSD Director of Student Services Laurel Bear, who spearheaded the changes, credits her time as a San Gabriel High cross-country coach in the mid-1980s with giving her the vision needed for such an effort. “We’re not going to arbitrarily ticket that child for the first time they oversleep. I would be appalled if that were our policy,” Bear told Shamout. “With those kids that really had a difficult time making good decisions … we needed to help them find a passion.”
AUSD has developed a wide range of support systems for students that aim to tackle whatever obstacles might be keeping them from school, a method supported by a $7 million grant from the US Department of Education awarded to the district in 2008, For example, the school board requires that teachers and administrators meet regularly to discuss mental health issues. A team of nearly 150 counselors, psychologists, and social workers are also stationed at schools, a program currently serving about 1,600 students. The district also offers multilingual workshops for parents addressing a variety of matters affecting their children, from gay and transgender awareness to substance abuse.
Bear says that the district’s ultimate goal is not to punish students for being tardy, but to ask “What do you need from us to be successful?”