California Attorney General Kamala Harris launched a new focus on truancy as a statewide law enforcement issue with a letter that went to all of the state’s county and district superintendents last week.
“California is facing an alarming truancy problem,” Harris wrote in the letter. “Over 1.8 million students, almost 30 percent of the state’s student body, were truant in California in the 2010-11 school year.”
Harris, who also focused on reducing truancy in San Francisco when she was the district attorney there, said she is planning to release a public report on the likeliness of truancy, especially at the elementary level, to lead to dropping out of high school and becoming involved in crime. The corresponding cost to the state shows up in the criminal justice and social service systems, Harris wrote. The state Department of Education does not track the amount of attendance funding lost to truancy, a spokeswoman said.
A truant is a student who misses more than 30 minutes of instruction without an excuse three times during the school year, according to the California Department of Education. A chronic truant is a student who is absent from school without a valid excuse for 10 percent or more of the school days in one year. Schools are required to notify parents when any student becomes truant and to follow up with parents on student’s subsequent absences. The letter from Harris was a way to “kindly remind” superintendents of their legal obligations to contact the families of truant students, said Nicholas Pacilio, a spokesperson for Harris.
Sometimes though, Harris pointed out in her letter, parents are the problem. Twenty-four percent of elementary school students were truant during the 2010-2011 school year, the most recent data available. “This duty is critical when it comes to elementary school children who are too young to shoulder the sole responsibility for getting themselves to school each morning,” Harris wrote.
The state is also turning its focus to truancy. The state Department of Education will hold a California Interagency Chronic Absence Forum from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 28 in the CDE State Board Room.