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Staff photo by Abby Sewell
Barstow Police Department Detective J. Barrientos (center) and Barstow High School Principal Ed Cheek talk to 14-year-old Marcus Alvarez after seeing him walking down the street with a friend during daytime curfew hours Thursday.

Sweep cracks down on students skipping school

BARSTOW • Martina Cassidy got an unwelcome call Thursday afternoon. Her son, 16-year-old Barstow High School junior Chris Cassidy, had been picked up off-campus during in a multi-agency truancy sweep targeting students ditching school. She had to pick him up at the school district office.


Martina said that she was upset with her son but glad that she had been alerted to the problem. Chris, who said he was on his way back to school from Del Taco when he got picked up, said most students who ditch class simply don’t like school.


“Because school sucks — they don’t want to be there,” he said.


Martina retorted, “Everyone has to go through school. If you like it or not, it doesn’t matter.”


The sweep Thursday was a coordinated effort between the Barstow Unified School District, Barstow Police Department and multiple law enforcement and social service agencies. It targeted students found outside of school and violating Barstow’s daytime curfew, as well as parents who have failed to send their kids to school or to show up at student attendance review board hearings to talk about their children’s’ truancy issues.


Officers and school district officials said the problem of truancy lies partly with the kids and partly with their parents.


“Ages 14, 15 and above, it’s usually the student,” Barstow Police Department School Resource Officer Dante Caliboso said. “They’re defiant, rebellious, not doing well in school, have the wrong set of friends. In regards to a second- or third-grader, can you really blame them for not going to school?”


From the law enforcement perspective, Caliboso said that the issue with kids ditching school is that they are more likely to engage in criminal activities while they wander through the city unsupervised. From the school district’s perspective, BUSD Interim Superintendent Susan Levine said the problem is twofold. In the first place, the district’s funding is linked to average daily attendance rates, and when students skip class, the district loses money.


“The other thing is, when kids aren’t in school, they’re not learning,” she said. “... Even in the younger grades, if they don’t come to school, there are big gaps in their learning.”


Parents are bound under the California education code to make sure their children go to school, and they are expected to show up to student attendance review board hearings when summoned. Failure to appear can lead to a warrant being issued for their arrest.


An officer came to Hester Alvarez’s house during Thursday’s sweep and wrote her a citation for failure to appear at an attendance hearing for one of her sons. A few minutes later, the same officer came across Alvarez’s other son, 14-year-old Marcus, walking down the street with a friend a few blocks away.


Marcus, who goes to the Excelsior Education Center because he was kicked out of public schools, said he doesn’t want to go to school because he has “too many problems” there and has been kicked out too many times.


Hester, who said the hearing summons went to the wrong address, said she was at her wits’ end. She said that she doubted that the truancy sweep would help get kids like her son to go to school, but she didn’t know what would.


“I’ve done everything I can,” she said.


The sweep was the first one of its kind to take place in Barstow, but law enforcement and school officials said they expect there will be more to come.


Participating agencies included Barstow Unified School District, Barstow Police Department, California Department of Corrections, California Highway Patrol, Department of Children’s Services, San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office juvenile unit, San Bernardino County Probation Department, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, and Vista Guidance Center.

Arrests and citations during truancy sweep
• 45 citations issued: 31 for curfew violations, 9 education code violations, 5 miscellaneous
• 6 arrests: 4 education code warrants, 2 miscellaneous
• 92 percent: Barstow Unified School District’s average daily attendance rate
• 95 percent or above: the district’s target attendance rate
Sources: Barstow Police Department Officer Dante Caliboso, Barstow Unified School District Interim Superintendent Susan Levine

Daytime curfew
Barstow’s daytime curfew restricts minors who are required to go to school from being present on a public street, park or recreation area, public grounds or buildings, vacant lots or buildings between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. on days when their school is in session.
There are some exceptions, including for minors who are with their parents or have a parent’s written permission, medical appointments, religious activities, or students who are home-schooled.
To read the full code and exemptions, see Chapter 9.04 of the Barstow Municipal Code at http://municipalcodes.lexisnexis.com/codes/barstow/.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or asewell@desertdispatch.com


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