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Best way to combat truancy? Make kids want to come to school
truancy info graph

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris unveiled an online toolkit on Thursday designed to help local leaders address California’s elementary school truancy crisis.

The toolkit, created in collaboration with the Ad Council and with the support of The California Endowment, provides school, community and government leaders with resources to work with parents on their children’s elementary school absences and the long-term impact that chronic absence and truancy have on academic performance.  

“Nearly a quarter of a million California elementary school students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year, with sweeping implications for our state’s future,” said Attorney General Harris. “If we want to effectively address this crisis, we need to communicate to parents and teachers about how critical early attendance is to a child’s development. This toolkit will help teachers and community leaders discuss truancy with parents and help them to ensure their children are in class every day.”

The toolkit is the culmination of a statewide study conducted with parents of elementary school students and education experts to understand barriers to attendance and how best to address them. It includes data compiled from interviews in which parents discussed their perceptions of early-grade absences and what messaging would have the greatest impact on them.

The study found that while parents have ambitious long-term dreams for their children, such as college admission, they often do not connect early-grade attendance to later achievement. Combined with barriers to attendance such as lack of transportation or health issues, these misunderstandings can lead to children missing too many days of school and falling behind as early as kindergarten.  The study also found that parents’ most trusted sources of information are teachers, who can best help them understand what is happening in the classroom and what resources are available to help families resolve barriers to attendance.  The study found that texting is most parents’ preferred form of communication with their children’s school.

The toolkit includes strategies for reducing chronic absenteeism like recognizing good and improved attendance, clarifying attendance expectations and establishing a positive and engaging school climate — all strategies that the Turlock Unified School District already employs, said Director of Student Services Gil Ogden.

"Students are truant for multiple factors...but if we force a student to go to school and they don't want to be there then they're not productive. We're working on ways that we can get kids to want to come to school," he said.

Some of the programs TUSD has implemented include the Tree House Club, which is a program for students who have experienced a loss in their family, such as divorce, separation, foster children or single parent homes, and social skills programs, including Greatness Groups; mentors from California State University, Stanislaus; the I Matter program where all 74 administrators chose a student to mentor; and a school-wide emphasis on positivity.

TUSD has implemented new personal contact policies like having administrators and chaplains in front of campuses as students and their parents arrive at school each day and teachers welcoming every student to class within the first three minutes.

"You have to have face-to-face contact with kids," said Ogden. "We used to do home visits...and now we're going back to that personal contact."

The need for new approaches to absenteeism is apparent as the AG's third annual report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism in California, In School + On Track 2015, found that California still faces a crisis in elementary school attendance: 230,000 California elementary school students are chronically absent – missing more than 10 percent of the school year – and more than 1 in 5 are truant, having three or more unexcused absences. Low-income students and students of color face even lower attendance rates.

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris unveiled the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the California Department of Justice that works to ensure all of California’s children are on track to meet their full potential. The Bureau enforces criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; works with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support and improve outcomes for vulnerable children; and identifies and pursues improvements to policies impacting children.