Kids cutting class to wander around the city will soon face a new hurdle: the police. Mayor Gavin Newsom announced today that the cops will soon be picking up kids playing hooky and dropping them off at a new referral center, where students will be bombarded with services to get them to go to school.
The center, to be opened in February or March, will be called the Truancy Assessment and Referral Center or -- as if the city needed one more acronym -- TARC. Whereas San Jose police drop kids off at a similar drop-off center in that city in handcuffs, the San Francisco police will not be cuffing kids, nor charging them with anything, and the pick-up is not considered an arrest. But it sure could play one on TV; cops will be driving the students in squad cars to the TARC location at 44 Gough Street. (When this reporter made the mistake of calling the pick-up "an arrest" while posing a question, half the city's leadership blurted out, "It's not an arrest!")
"This is an effort to go from 30 miles an hour to 100 miles an hour in terms of what we've done in the past," says Newsom, who has often made personal visits and phone calls to the homes of truant students, even rousing one student from bed after the mom gave him permission. He no longer calls parents, he says, after attorneys advised him it's a breach of confidentiality for him to possess the names and phone numbers of chronically truant students.
At a stern moment in an otherwise celebratory press conference, Newsom
answered a reporter's question of whether the children will be reported
to immigration authorities. "None. Zero. We made sure that's the case,"
Police Chief George Gascon told the SF Weekly that
officers will be looking for truant kids while working their
regular beats, and will respond to calls from merchants, neighbors, or
even frustrated mothers to come pick up kids. Officers will talk to youthful-looking folks to find out if they are school-age or not. If so, it's off to TARC for them.
The new practice comes after District
Attorney Kamala Harris began prosecuting chronically truant students -- and their parents -- in truancy court. Yet San Francisco's public schools still reported 4,839 chronic and habitual truants last school year.
City officials hope that this efforts to combat truancy will ultimately
lead to fewer drop-outs -- also a chronic problem. Last year, 32 percent of black students, 19 percent of whites, and 19 percent of Latinos didn't
graduate from San Francisco public high schools.
The sound bite
of the press conference went to Juvenile Probation Chief William
Sifferman, saying he wanted the program to succeed so he would see fewer kids at juvenile hall. "We want a-ttention, not de-tention," he said.
You can't get arrested for making jokes like that either, fortunately.