In its first operation targeting Los Angeles students who are skipping school, a multi-agency truancy task force cited 45 local students from the Venice and Westchester areas during a truancy sweep Thursday, November 8th.

The Operation Stay in School task force — coordinated by deputy city attorney Veronica De La Cruz-Robles, city attorney Rocky Delgadillo’s Venice High School safety prosecutor — involved officers from several local law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Culver City police departments, as well as the Los Angeles School Police Department.

The task force patrolled areas in Venice and Westchester that are known to be “hangouts” for truant students, such as local convenience stores, fast food restaurants, beaches, the Venice Boardwalk and the Santa Monica Pier.

Students who were found to be truant by the task force November 8th were taken to a command post at the Penmar Recreation Center in Venice, according to the city attorney’s office. As a result of the operation, 45 students, including 15 from Venice High School, three from Westchester High School and three from Mark Twain Middle School, were cited with misdemeanor truancy tickets, said Frank Mateljan, a city attorney spokesman.

Operation Stay in School aims to crack down on incidents of truancy in the city and help provide needed services to parents of truant students to prevent such incidents, Mateljan said.

“We want kids who aren’t in school to be in school,” Mateljan said.

De La Cruz-Robles met with school officials in the Venice and Westchester areas and determined that there was a need to address truancy problems there, Mateljan said. The sweeps are also conducted for safety, as many crimes against youths can occur during the hours students should be in school, he added.

Referring to the 15 Venice High students who were cited for truancy, principal Jan Davis said she was not surprised, as there are typically more than that number of students who are not in school on a daily basis.

“I appreciate some of their efforts,” Davis said of the multi-agency task force targeting truancy. “It has helped us and helped our attendance. We are concerned about the kids who are not coming on a consistent basis.”

If a student at Venice High is absent for more than four days in a row, an attendance counselor will look into the situation and call the student’s home, Davis said.

During the truancy sweep, parents were notified of arrests and asked to report to the task force command center prior to the release of their child. The students who were cited went through processing by the school district they attend to check for truancy patterns and other issues, according to the city attorney’s office.

Officers evaluated each student’s situation to identify the need for alternative services from participating agencies, including counseling and intervention programs. Parents who are participating in mandatory advisement by social service agencies were also provided additional information about free counseling and parenting classes, as well as alternative programs available at Venice High, according to Mateljan.

“We want the parents to be more involved,” he said.

Of the 45 students cited, three minors were referred to the Department of Children and Family Services Multi-Agency Response Team and two were placed in foster homes after the operation, Mateljan said.

The Venice High school safety prosecutor and school administrators plan to work with the students cited for truancy to discuss their options, including taking part in a truancy reduction program, Mateljan said. The Truancy Reduction Intervention and Prevention Program allows truant students to attend a session of six classes to try to reduce their truancy fines from $250 to $35 or less.

Parents can also get involved in the anti-truancy effort through the city attorney’s Operation Bright Future program.

Mateljan said Operation Stay in School is still a work in progress but added that it’s a “positive first step” toward reducing incidents of truancy at Los Angeles schools.

“We will continue to assess the need and see what works,” Mateljan said of the program.

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