The county has ditched an ill-advised truancy ordinance, and for that, we give high marks to homeschoolers who mounted a well-organized campaign against it. The law would have given school resource officers the ability to “temporarily detain” truant students and transport them to school or to their parents. Advocates of the law — including officials with the Sheriff’s Office, the Probation Department and the County Office of Education — said it would be another tool to help keep troubled students in school.
But they failed to account for the homeschooling community; upset parents and students showed up en masse to point out flaws in the law when the Board of Supervisors first considered it in January. They questioned the constitutionality of the law, and they also complained that they weren’t asked for their input. That led the board to send the ordinance back to the drawing board, and after further review, advocates of the measure decided to drop it altogether.
That was a smart move.
We expect school resource officers would have used the law sparingly — we never believed it was their intent to stake out parks and video arcades, demanding an explanation from every school-age child — but this ordinance was far too sweeping. Potentially, any kid out on the street during school hours could have been stopped and questioned. Even young-looking 19- and 20-year-olds could have fallen under suspicion.
That’s too much. Students have many legitimate reasons for being out and about during school hours. They may be homeschooled; on their way to a work experience program or a doctor’s appointment; or they may be enrolled in independent study or a halfday program. Whatever the reason, they shouldn't have to worry about being stopped by police simply because of their age. That’s teaching children to be wary or downright frightened of the very officers who are there to protect them.
Besides, there already are anti-truancy laws on the books in California. Parents can face fines and jail time if their children repeatedly miss school, and students can lose their driver’s licenses.
The intent of the county’s ordinance, to keep habitual truants in school, was admirable, but this was not the way to do it.
The county should toss the truancy ordinance in the round file — and never dig it out.