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AG, school district tackle truancy crisis
A new package of legislation aims to better track California truancy rates. - photo by Photo Contributed

While all local school districts are back in session, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris is hoping new legislation will keep students in class.

The package of legislation — AB 1866, AB 1672, AB 1643, and AB 2141 — addresses what Harris calls California’s elementary school truancy crisis.

“Each year approximately one million California elementary school children are truant from class. Good education policies are meaningless if the students aren’t at their desk,” said Harris.

If signed into law, AB 1866 will add truancy and absenteeism to the information collected by the state’s Department of Education. As required by the Local Control Funding Formula, this bill will give school districts the resources to monitor and analyze attendance patterns.

With AB 1672, information on student enrollment, absence and truancy rates, district attorney referrals and School Attendance Review Board intervention outcomes will be mandated to be included in the annual reports from local SARBs. Hoping to get a better idea of SARB efforts throughout the state, the additional information will expand upon the minimal information about intervention outcomes that is currently required.

AB 1643 will provide local courts with a broader understanding of attendance issues by adding representatives from the county district attorney’s office and the county public defender’s office to both county and local SARBs. With its passing, the bill will help SARBs get down to the root of truancy issues.

If passed, AB 2141 will require the district attorney’s office to provide a report to school officials regarding the outcome of a truancy related referral.

The bills now await Governor Jerry Brown’s signature. If signed into law, these bills will address the core reasons behind chronic absences, give school districts the tools to comply with attendance tracking requirements, and modernize state and local systems to help prevent truancy.

Locally, Turlock Unified School District is also reminding parents and guardians about how important it is to make sure their child attends school regularly.

In the Annual Parent Notification that is sent to all parents and guardians in the district at the beginning of the school year, the attendance section states that all persons between the age of 6 and 18 must attend school on a full-time basis in their school district of residence, unless otherwise exempted. If not proven exempt and the student is absent for 30 minutes or more in a single period in one school day, the absence is considered unexcused and warrants a phone call to the child’s residence alerting parents of their absence.

With three unexcused absences, parents and guardians can expect a truancy letter sent to their home. The letter lists the dates of absence and warns the reader that if the child accrues five or more absences, he or she will be identified as a “Continuing Absentee” and will be required to attend a School Attendance Review Team meeting. Another truancy letter will also be sent home to notify parents and guardians of the habitual truancy.

“Studies show that for each day a student is absent they fall three days behind,” the letter states. “Excessive absences affect the student’s education and increase chances for failure.”

These truancy letters are mandated by the state and have been proven to reduce the amount of following absences.

“Research suggests that the truancy letter that is sent after three unexcused absences in a school year results in a substantial reduction in subsequent absences,” said Director of Student Services Gil Ogden. “This was the basis of California mandating that all schools send a truancy letter after three unexcused absences.”

Parents and guardians have up to 72 hours to contact the school to clear the absence with an approved excuse. Approved excuses cover a variety of reasons, including but not limited to, illness, attendance of funeral services for a member of the student’s immediate family, medical appointments, and observance of holiday or ceremony of the student’s religion.

“Positive attendance is rather crucial to future success,” said Ogden. “Statistics suggest a strong correlation between attendance and academic achievement. Students with excessive absences are significantly more likely to be below their peers academically and have increased probability of dropping out of school.”

TUSD reminds parents that students who miss fewer than eight days of school a year are more likely to be on track to achieve success in school. On the other hand, students who are absent an average of fifteen days a year miss a year’s worth of school before their senior year.