Kids could end up in court for cutting class

Kids who play hooky from southern San Mateo County schools could face a court date and a fine thanks to a new police enforcement strategy that will include regular overtime for truancy officers.

Redwood City police will be enforcing a little-known county daytime curfew ordinance that allows officers to cite teens caught skipping school twice in the same year. Cited students would have to appear before a commissioner in juvenile traffic court, where offenders who do not show proof of attendance are later fined $80 or have their driver’s license suspended.

The problem is serious: Out of 1,500 students, 340 were cited for truancy at least three times last year, Sequoia High Principal Morgan Marchbanks said.

“I honestly think that truancy is the No. 1 factor that affects graduation rates and getting involved in drugs, getting involved in criminal activity,” Marchbanks said.

The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office and Atherton police — which patrol Woodside High and Menlo-Atherton High, respectively — and school administrators are taking part in the crackdown.

Redwood City will be funding five overtime hours per week so an officer can make home visits and perform other duties designed to buck truancy trends, Juvenile Detective Rick Meure said. At times that may entail providing services to families who require students to say home and watch younger siblings, he said.

The strategy will apply to all schools in Redwood City, although Meure said truancy problems typically exist for schools that include grades seven and above.

Barba Kandarian, last year’s Parent-Teacher Student Association president at Sequoia High, said a large portion of the responsibility to avoid truancy lies with parents, not just police and school administrators. Seeing a child appear in court could be the wake-up call parents need to become more involved, she said.

It could also have the same effect on the child, Kandarian said.

“Mom and dad can tell you the same thing over and over again in 16 languages and you don’t hear a thing, but when it comes from a different place and a different source you tend to take more notice,” Kandarian said.

Meure said the county is not yet on board with the concept of charging parents of truant students. The San Francisco District Attorney’s Office fines parents of repeat offenders $100, and subsequent charges could include up to one year in county jail and a $2,500 penalty.

A new group of police and prosecutors is meeting, however, to determine whether the county should crack down further on truancy, Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said.

mrosenberg@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

Truancy crackdown in southern San Mateo County.

  • 5 Overtime hours per week for Redwood City truancy officers
  • 4 Redwood City school-resources officers, including one full-time officer
  • 3 Targeted high schools (Sequoia, Woodside, Menlo-Atherton)
  • $80 Fine for San Mateo County repeat truants
  • $100 Fine for parents of truants in San Francisco
  • 340 Sequoia High School students truant at least three times last year
  • 1,500 Total Sequoia High School students last year

Sources: Redwood City police, Sequoia High School, S. F. District Attorney’s Office

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