San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to consider truancy ordinance

Minors in San Luis Obispo County’s unincorporated areas who are skipping school would find it tougher to stay out on the street if an ordinance being considered by the Board of Supervisors comes to pass.

The board is being asked to hold a public hearing Jan. 17 on the proposed truancy ordinance. It is being introduced at Tuesday’s supervisors’ meeting, but only for purposes of setting a date for the hearing next month.

Should it be approved, it would affect only unincorporated parts of San Luis Obispo County, which are those areas outside city limits.

Each of the seven local cities, however, could eventually adopt its own rules, or even a version of whatever the county might approve, according to county Chief Probation Officer Jim Salio.

Under the proposed ordinance, Salio wrote in a staff report, law enforcement officers would be able to “temporarily detain” a minor they believe to be truant during school hours. The officer would be empowered “to return that minor to school or his or her parents or legal guardian.”

School resource officers — who are the law enforcement officers assigned to monitor specific campuses — do not have that authority, Salio wrote. If and when they acquire it, they would be able to “act in the best interest of the minor and preserve public safety,” he wrote.

There are exceptions to when an officer would be able to act, according to the proposed ordinance, such as if a minor had permission from a school to be off campus or were heading for a doctor’s appointment.

Salio wrote that he worked on the ordinance along with representatives of the San Luis Obispo County Department of Social Services, the county Health Agency, District Attorney’s Office, the county Office of Education, and the Lucia Mar, Paso Robles and Atascadero school districts, as well as other groups.

The proposal is part of a larger effort to reduce truancy and dropout rates.In his report, Salio presented a grim picture of the effect of dropping out and being truant on both the student and society.

“One of the major predictors of dropouts is truancy,” according to Julian Crocker, the county’s superintendent of schools.

In addition, “The loss of revenue has a significant impact on state and local economies,” Salio wrote. Citing a Princeton University study, he wrote that “the immediate cost to the nation for each dropout is approximately $260,000.”

In the 2009-10 academic year in San Luis Obispo County, the dropout rate was 9.1 percent compared to the state average of 13.3 percent, according to Salio.

In addition to fighting truancy, Crocker said, bringing the ordinance forward this way raises the public’s awareness and underscores that it is important for youngsters to be in school.