Students with tickets for being late to school faced hundreds of dollars in fines and were forced to miss more school time to appear in court.

Now Los Angeles’ top judge for juvenile courts has released new guidelines to eliminate fines and unnecessary court time for students who were late to school and for other minor offenses. The court will also direct students who miss school to school- and community-based resources that are shown to improve academic achievement and get struggling students back on track.

It’s the latest step forward to reforming Los Angeles daytime curfew rules and truancy ticketing. Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles School Police Department, the nation’s largest school police force, adopted new procedures to reduce the number of tickets written to students on their way to school and put parents, students and schools, not police and courts, in charge of school attendance.

Data collected by Public Counsel, the ACLU of Southern California, and the Community Rights Campaign shows that truancy and tardy ticketing unfairly and disproportionately targets African American and Latino students and their families, and results in more student time out of school and significant financial burdens on low-income families. 

The significant reforms reflect the input from students, parents, civil rights attorneys and teachers who testified and provided data and information through the Student Attendance Task Force and a community town hall last fall.

Under the rules released by Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash on January 3, 2012, courts will now dismiss all tickets where the evidence shows the student was late to school or en route to school. Students with real attendance problems will have 60 days to show they are committed to improvement and to enroll in and complete services that help them get back on track in school.  

“Too many students are caught in a vicious cycle – facing hundreds of dollars in accumulated fines they can’t afford, and having to miss even more school to go to court,” said Laura Faer, Director of Education Rights at Public Counsel. “Judge Nash’s approach is not only visionary, it is sane, humane, and it’s going to be more effective for student success in the long run. This is a breakthrough model for other courts to follow.” 

“Judge Nash has taken real leadership by listening to the students and parents of color most harmed by truancy ticketing,” said Manuel Criollo, lead organizer for Community Rights Campaign. “His court is a model for community engagement.”

“It’s common sense that the best place for students to be during the school day is at school,” said David Sapp, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Southern California. “Minimizing the amount of school time that students must miss to deal with citations for minor offenses is a major step forward.”

Los Angeles Councilman Tony Cárdenas, who has been working for the last two years to reform the city’s student truancy policies, also applauded Judge Nash’s announcement.

“Judge Nash’s actions provide a tremendous benefit to our school districts, the city and county because it is the right way to work on the issue of student truancy,” Councilman Cárdenas said. “These changes will now give the proper professionals the opportunity to work with our children, get them back in school and on the right track.”

The new guidelines give students the ability to develop an attendance improvement plan with their parents and schools and complete hours in tutoring, mentoring, credit recovery, and drop-out prevention programs that will help them get back on track in school. Youth who face penalties from prior tickets or for minor offenses can now ask the court to dismiss the fines and give them community service instead.

The rules affect youth in the Informal Juvenile and Traffic Court section of Los Angeles Superior Court, which handle youth traffic offenses and other minor offenses such as transit fare evasion. Research shows that involving young people who are struggling in school in the juvenile justice system actually results in a far higher likelihood that they will drop out of school altogether.