Originally Mr. Provenza brought the matter to this body because the school board was for all intents and purposes blind-sided at a September 6, 2007 meeting where they learned of efforts to crack down on truancy in the district, apparently already underway between the school district, the district attorney’s office, and the Davis Police Department. The hope was that this meeting would provide the district with some clarity, but in fact, we learned very little from this particular meeting. School Board President Provenza himself deferred most comments until the school board could meet on November 1 to discuss this item. He did however invite Chief Landy Black and Lt. Darren Pytel to present a report on the police’s efforts to date.
Davis City Councilmember Lamar Hystek pressed for some information about the efforts to date and the current policy, however, the response was that there was no changes to the current policy and any other answers were deferred to that November 1, 2007 meeting.
Councilmember Heystek relayed concerns that he had heard from Davis High School Students about the policy.
School Board Member Tim Taylor responded in part that he felt that much of the confusion and anxiety was created by the school board meeting and presentation by Director of Student Services Pam Mari.
From my perspective, having talked with a good number of students, most were not even aware that there was a school board meeting that discussed this topic. Their confusion stems from the lack of adequate communication from the school district and the police about activities that have been occurring on campus since last spring but also about activities that occurred on campus the first week of school.
That is not to criticize Mr. Taylor on this, in fact, he was quite forceful once again in not wanting to repeat what happened at the September 6, 2007 meeting.
“We need to ramp this up through the community, rather than have it dumped on the public through another board meeting. We need to make it clear that we’re going to have dialogues at schools.”
Davis Police Chief Landy Black suggested that the use of the word “sweep” was not the best word choice. He suggested that is a word used by the police in a different sort of context than it is used in the public. This was much the same as the conversation I had a few weeks ago with Lt. Darren Pytel. The idea that the police would be able to do any sort of broad sweep of the community is not realistic given department resources. And in an interestingly candid admission, he acknowledged that the police often do not do a good job of public relations.
Councilmember Heystek suggested again that the district and the community needs to be proactive in terms of how they deal with this issue, not just in terms of cracking down on truancy, but also in terms of getting community buy-in and communicating with the public.
Mr. Heystek then pushed for a motion to direct city and school district staff members to distribute information on the truancy policy, and the rights and responsibilities of students, parents and school district employees.
Interestingly enough, one of the things that came out of my meeting with Lt. Pytel was a that he will be offer a session to students on Police Procedure. So on October 29, 2007 at 6 PM, a session on “An Introduction to Police Procedure: Emphasis on Juvenile Law” with be taught by Davis Police Lt. Darren Pytel, this workshop will cover law and procedures currently in effect for youth in California and the Davis Community.
Last spring Lt. Pytel offered a course like this for adults which I attended, for the most part I agreed with his information and I found it valuable to understand where police were coming from in terms of contacts with the public–both consensual and non-consensual.
In my discussions with many high school students it became very clear that most of them did not know what their rights were and did not realize when they were free to leave and when the stop was an actual detention and they were compelled to give the police any information.
I would encourage in fact both students and their parents to attend this seminar. Chief Black suggested that while this is scheduled for community chambers where the city council meets, it could be moved to a larger venue if there is enough interest.
I also understand that the students themselves may be organizing an event with the ACLU to talk about these issues as well. The more discussion the better from my perspective.
November 1, 2007 will now be a key meeting for this community in terms of learning what is happening in the schools and also in terms of setting the direction for future efforts to deal with truancy. As long as the community is informed in this process, this will be a healthy discussion.
One of the efforts I understand that is underway are efforts to form a SARB–Student Attendance Review Board. The advantage of a SARB is that is a multi-jurisdictional approach between the schools, the juvenile justice system, and the police. But it also aims to really figure out why the student is being truant so that they can get help, and so there is a partnership with counselors, mental health services, drug counseling services, social workers, etc. to actually get to the root cause of the truancy and determine what needs the student has for help. The goal here is to get the student into school and the SARB can be a great resource for doing that.
This is another reason, I think the efforts to date while well-intentioned needed school board direction and community buy-in.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting