Informational brochure and news article on the Oxnard Police Department's successful Student Truancy Offender Program.
Truants get turned around
Copyright © 2001 Ventura County Star. Reprinted with permission.
July 20, 2001Oxnard teen-ager Chris Garcia was skipping school so frequently last fall that his frustrated mother chose the last resort: She called the police. They picked up Garcia at home, cited him for truancy and enrolled him in a program that his mother says turned his life around. "He's doing good; he's doing really wonderful," Patricia Terronez said. "He's a different person."
Oxnard police said at a news conference on Thursday the Student Truancy Offender Program, called STOP, has helped scores of students like 15-year-old Chris in its first year of operation. The program combines tough enforcement with parenting classes and counseling from social-service agencies. Under a stiffened state law, police have the power to go to the homes of students with at least four unexcused absences and cite them for truancy. That's where Oxnard police found about nine out of 10 truants they cited this year, Officer David Walker said. Police take them, usually in handcuffs, to the STOP office at the former Oxnard High School. An officer talks to them, tries to find out what's causing the truancy, and refers them to health and social-service agencies that are on the site.
Trained counselors help the students deal with underlying family problems, said Oxnard Police Officer Karl Dyer, who runs the program.
"The real problem is there's no structure in the home," he said. "That's why I do the parenting classes. They don't have the tools (to be effective parents)." Walker, who designed the program, said truancy often is a sign of serious problems. In Oxnard, for example, police found that a 16-year-old girl who had been truant for four days was addicted to heroin and supporting her habit with prostitution. Officers also located nine runaways and arrested several truant students for burglary, weapons and drug violations.
National statistics show that 78 percent of prison inmates were first arrested for truancy, two-thirds of truants test positive for drugs when they are detained, and 57 percent of violent crimes committed by juveniles occur when the students should have been in school. Truancy also often leads to dropping out of school. It also costs school districts money, because the state bases funding on the average number of students in school. In Ventura County, truancy costs school districts $25 million to $40 million a year, county Superintendent of Schools Charles Weis said.
In the program's first year of operation, Oxnard police issued 2,747 citations for truancy, compared to 434 the previous school year. They would like to expand the program and see it adopted in other cities, Walker said. He said a key to its success is the collaboration with other agencies, from schools and youth organizations to the county mental health department. Funding for next year is uncertain, but Walker expects that the program will operate at the same level it did during the past year. He said the Police Department is seeking funding from other agencies and state grants to pay for the program.
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