Terry McAteer: School truants are given pass by Legislature | TheUnion.com

Terry McAteer: School truants are given pass by Legislature

Truancy has always been a problem and continues still to be a problem. Students who skip school not only hurt themselves but hurt society, because they fall further behind in academics.

Well, the Legislature just sided with truants and pulled the rug out from under schools and society.

For 22 years I chaired the truancy board which hears from parents, students and the schools to decide what solutions and measures need to be taken to insure a student attends school. I’ve heard hundreds of cases and most fall into two categories. The first are “challenged” parents of elementary school youth who need parenting skills themselves to insure that they run the household and not their 6 year old. The second group are high school youth who are in conflict with all vestiges of authority: school, home and, often, law enforcement.

As most adults know, poor choices have consequences. High school truants who are bucking authority and a chance for a high-school diploma often care less about consequences. Parents establish consequences; teachers institute consequences; therefore, by the time the truant high school student comes before the truancy board, he or she is tired of meaningless consequences such as failing a class, restricted curfew hours or loss of computer time. The only consequence I have found over the years as an educator that really does get a students’ attention is suspension of the privilege of driving a car.

I side on the fact that a high school diploma is much more important than a job at Taco Bell.

State law, up until this year, provided for the truancy board to petition local courts to remove the right of a student to drive a car. This law provided teeth to schools and society and said that if you don’t go to school then you shouldn’t have the privilege of having a driver’s license. I can attest that this consequence works and that scores of habitual truants have changed their ways because they want to maintain the freedom that a car provides.

Enter Republican state Assemblyman Jim Lackey, who sponsored AB 2685, repealing the right of the courts to suspend a truants driver’s license. As Lackey notes, “By allowing truants to maintain and use their licenses to travel to and from work, AB 2685 acts to protect the hard-working spirit of our youth while continuing to emphasize the importance of education.”

The existing law already provided for that provision which the courts could take into account as the Legislative Analyst noted: “Existing law requires the juvenile court, when determining whether to suspend or delay a minor’s driving privilege, to consider whether a personal or family hardship exists which requires the minor to have a driver’s license for his or her own, or a member of his or her family’s employment or for medically related purposes.”

The legislature passed and the governor signed this new law which essentially pulls the only viable consequence available to schools in gaining some leverage over high school truants.

The argument used by Assemblyman Lackey is that truants need wheels to get to work. That might be nice for a few truants, but I side on the fact that a high school diploma is much more important than a job at Taco Bell.

Furthermore, to strip the right of a local judge in determining the need of a car over a blanket law from Sacramento is just bad policy.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.

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