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Truant students get wake-up call

Truant students get wake-up call

Stanislaus Military Academy senior Victor Ochoa, 18, was one of the students who received a surprise visit from Sheriff Deputies and school officials for habitual truancy.

POSTED February 21, 2012 11:12 p.m.

Habitually truant students and their families received a wakeup call yesterday morning from the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department and officials from the Stanislaus County Office of Education during a county-wide truancy sweep, which included students from the Stanislaus Military Academy in Turlock.
The goal of the sweep was to get chronically truant students back in class and warn parents or caregivers about the possible consequences for failing to ensure their kids are in class, which can range from verbal warnings to jail time or fines of up to $400 per day of truancy. The students can also be sent to juvenile court.
Parents are required by law to send their children to school between the ages of six and 18.
The truancy sweep was a coordinated effort of the SCOE School Attendance Review Board.
"The goal here is to prevent truancy and address how important it is for a student to attend school every day," said SARB Coordinator Sharma Uma.
Uma explained that when sheriff's deputies are knocking on doors of truant students it is far along in the process. Typically after three absences a letter is sent home from the school, then after six the school district sends a letter home. Once the level of absences reach nine or more in one school year students and their parents can be called to the SARB to explain the excessive absences.
"Once it reaches us it is the last step before the case can be referred to court and a warrant can be issued. We are seeing kids who have missed 40 to 50 days this school year," said John B. Allard School Resource Officer Dave Sanson. "Kids can also be referred to SARB for being a habitual classroom disturbance."
Stanislaus Military Academy senior Victor Ochoa, 18, was one of the students who received an early morning visit from a host of deputies and SCOE officials. Ochoa, who lives in Modesto, says he was due in court for a traffic violation and decided not to come to school. In the past several weeks Ochoa has missed more than a dozen days of school and he admits that his lack of attendance has compromised his education.
"I'm having family problems and it's a long commute to Turlock, but I am definitely going to be attending school again after this. I know education is important and I need to graduate in order to join the Marine Corps. I'm still on track to graduate," he said.
Stanislaus Military Academy Principal Jeremy Nichols says that campus supervisors are out informally "pounding on doors" on a daily basis.
"The majority of the time this is just a wake-up call to let the parents and students know that we are serious. Things usually change for the better and sometimes it can result instantly into perfect attendance the rest of the year," said Sanson.
Typically this is enough to get students to attend school but sometimes the problem becomes chronic enough to be escalated to SARB hearings.
About 10 SARB hearings are held a week at the SCOE level.
"We hold about 200 SARB hearing a year and only about 10 percent are referred to the courts," said Uma.
Yesterday, one of those cases was on full display during the sweep. A Denair freshman was refusing to go to school, which prompted a planned wake-up call and escort. Fortunately for the student his mother convinced him to wake up and go to school before deputies arrived at the Denair home.
"He was in compliance today but he simply refuses to go to school and there is some gang activity going on. His mother says he came home at 2:30 a.m. last night. This will probably become a case that will be cited straight to the courts," said Sanson.
"Ultimately the goal is to get kids in school, students who attend school regularly perform better academically, and equally important, establish work habits that will help them succeed in the future," said Uma. "There are resources available to families who have transportation problems. We can give them bus tickets, and in some cases even provide transportation. We will do all we can to get the kid into school."
According the National Center for School Engagement, truancy has been clearly identified as one of the early warning signs for at-risk behavior, including delinquent activity, social isolation, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and educational failure via suspension, expulsion, or dropping out.

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