Mother Facing Jail Time Over Truant Son

Long Beach files its first truancy case under new law

Long Beach police arrested Emilia Zamora, 43, on Monday because her son, a middle
school student, failed to go to school more than ten percent of the time this year.

"Her response was, 'I tell him to go to school but he does what he wants to do,'" according to Sgt. Rob Gallagher, of the Long Beach Police Dept.

This was the first time a parent has been arrested in Long Beach since the city beefed up its truancy law earlier this year.

A Long Beach police spokesman said school and city officials had repeatedly attempted to get Zamora to deal with her son's frequent absences from Washington Middle School.

"We had five meetings with both the student and the parent, stressing the importance to do this, and it just didn't improve, so we unfortunately had to file criminal charges in this case," states Randall Fudge, Assistant City Prosecutor.

Long Beach adopted a program on January 1st that identifies any student who misses ten percent or more class time as chronically truant.

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The measure, called the Parent Accountability and Chronic Truancy Program or PACT, gave the city attorney a weapon with which to battle chronic truancy.

Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) has unusually high truancy rates.

In the 2009-2010 school year, LBUSD's truancy rate was more than 48 percent while the rate for Los Angeles County was just under 29 percent and the statewide figure was 28.15 percent.

The program is in line with a new state law (Penal Code 270.1) which took effect on January 1,2011.

As of January, Zamora's son had already missed more than 20 days of school and his case was sent to the Long Beach Unified School District's Attendance Review Board.

When the student's attendance failed to improve, the case was sent to the Long Beach City Prosecutor's Office, which held five meetings with police, school district staff and the student's mother.

Under PACT, parents of children in kindergarten through 8th grade can be criminally prosecuted if their children become "chronic truants."

Parents can also be criminally prosecuted for contributing to the delinquency of a minor if the parent causes or encourages a minor to break the law.

So when after five meetings with authorities Zamora's son's attendance at school failed to improve, Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert ordered the arrest of the mother.

A police spokesman said by the time Zamora was arrested, her son had more than 50 unexcused absences from school.

Investigators also learned that in 2007, Zamora had been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor when her older son failed to attend school.

Zamora was released from jail on Tuesday in lieu of $10,000 bail.

If convicted, she faces a possible sentence of a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The PACT program requires a number of steps prior to prosecution.

The school district must offer the family support services to address truancy.

The district must also follow guidelines set out in the state education code for notifying parents when their children are truant.

The Long Beach Unified School District has officials place calls to parents, hold office meetings and hold hearings before rhe Student Attendance Review Board before referring the case to the city prosecutor.

Police said all these steps were followed in the Zamora case.

In February, shortly after the PACT program was put in place, Haubert told the Long Beach Press-Telegram "today's truants are tomorrow's dropouts, and they're tomorrow's inmates."

"Anything that can be done now to keep kids in school will hopefully save hundreds of prosecutions later on," he said.

 Kids think attendance is important too.

"I think it’s important to stay in school because you're missing out on a lot of stuff you're going to have to learn. So, I think It's better for everyone to stay in school," says Jose Rodriguez, a Washington Middle School 8th grader.

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