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.

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  1. Bobby Dias 6 years ago6 years ago

    Which is right or wrong? A Republican who votes to deny 10 cents from a Democrat bill is called mean and uncaring or is child-trafficers like Kamala Harris who want our children locked up like slaves?

  2. Frank Valadez 7 years ago7 years ago

    Sorry, El, you missed my point. Any parent with children in public schools should familiarize themselves with the district's attendance policies and Ed. Code 48205. There are very specific guidelines that govern the excusing of absences. Of course a student should be excused due to illness. However, the legislature has recognized, due to recent research, and taken steps in the form of new legislation, to curb the incidents of excessive absences, … Read More

    Sorry, El, you missed my point. Any parent with children in public schools should familiarize themselves with the district’s attendance policies and Ed. Code 48205. There are very specific guidelines that govern the excusing of absences. Of course a student should be excused due to illness. However, the legislature has recognized, due to recent research, and taken steps in the form of new legislation, to curb the incidents of excessive absences, both excused and unexcused. The larger problem is not truancy but excessive excused absences. The primary concern of educators, social service agencies, law enforcement, etc. is the high correlation between chronic absenteeism and the dropout rate.

  3. Frank Valadez 7 years ago7 years ago

    Interesting that after all these years, some parents still believe that because a student is under the care of a parent or the parent notified the school in advance, the absences should be excused, NOT SO. Even a doctor's note does not have to be accepted by the school, if the school has information that the child was able to attend. Family trips are usually not an excuse for missing school. Most districts … Read More

    Interesting that after all these years, some parents still believe that because a student is under the care of a parent or the parent notified the school in advance, the absences should be excused, NOT SO. Even a doctor’s note does not have to be accepted by the school, if the school has information that the child was able to attend. Family trips are usually not an excuse for missing school. Most districts have “short term Independent Study”. The requirements for this option should be explored. A student fulfilling the conditions of an I.S. contract, cannot be marked absent from school.

    Replies

    • el 7 years ago7 years ago

      Short term independent study requires an absence of 5 consecutive days or more. I don't see a point in being draconian about absences as long as they are beneficial (to the student generally, or to other students in the case of communicable diseases) and as long as the student is making appropriate academic progress. Unless absences are becoming disruptive, I don't understand why you'd be fired up to mark kids as truant as often as you … Read More

      Short term independent study requires an absence of 5 consecutive days or more.

      I don’t see a point in being draconian about absences as long as they are beneficial (to the student generally, or to other students in the case of communicable diseases) and as long as the student is making appropriate academic progress. Unless absences are becoming disruptive, I don’t understand why you’d be fired up to mark kids as truant as often as you seem to be suggesting.

  4. Frank Valadez 7 years ago7 years ago

    Ms. Harris, Many, many thanks for your interest in keeping kids in school. Those of us whom have worked in the field of school attendance, however, know that the actual truancy rate of most districts, as per Ed. Code definition, is closer to 85 percent. Many districts under report for a variety of reason, not the least of which is the very strict definition of truancy. Also, particularly at the elementary level, … Read More

    Ms. Harris, Many, many thanks for your interest in keeping kids in school. Those of us whom have worked in the field of school attendance, however, know that the actual truancy rate of most districts, as per Ed. Code definition, is closer to 85 percent. Many districts under report for a variety of reason, not the least of which is the very strict definition of truancy. Also, particularly at the elementary level, many schools do not post into their computer systems, kids that are pulled out of school more than 30 minutes early. All schools keep a record, usually a sign-out binder, but these absences are often not entered into the attendance system. Regardless, I applaud you for initiating the dialogue, long overdue.

  5. el 7 years ago7 years ago

    Since schools are paid the same for excused or unexcused absences, there’s not a ton of incentive to clear up errors in excused vs. unexcused.

    (There is, of course, a great deal of incentive for schools to get the kids to school for ADA money.)

  6. Manuel 7 years ago7 years ago

    I don't know how relevant this is to the actual truancy figures, but I know for a fact that keeping track of excused absences is a total mess at LAUSD because of low staffing. As it happened to "el," I would have to periodically confer with the person in charge of attendance records to clear up absences that had been excused with the teacher/principal either due to illness or school functions but never passed up the … Read More

    I don’t know how relevant this is to the actual truancy figures, but I know for a fact that keeping track of excused absences is a total mess at LAUSD because of low staffing.

    As it happened to “el,” I would have to periodically confer with the person in charge of attendance records to clear up absences that had been excused with the teacher/principal either due to illness or school functions but never passed up the line.

    In cases of true truancy, the disappearance of attendance monitor staff has seriously impacted the ADA reported by the District with the associated loss in state funds. For instance, the enrollment reported in DataQuest for 2011-12 by LAUSD was 662,14 and the ADA reported in the District’s budget was 514,712, a whopping 23% difference.

  7. Lillian Mongeau 7 years ago7 years ago

    el, If you click on the link right after the 30 percent statement, you can see the California Department of Education's truancy data. A truant in this data is anyone who misses more than 30 minutes of instruction three times in a year without an excuse note. It does seem like a rather low bar. I'm not sure what you mean by kids with excessive absences not counting as truant... Do you mean that kids with many … Read More

    el,

    If you click on the link right after the 30 percent statement, you can see the California Department of Education’s truancy data. A truant in this data is anyone who misses more than 30 minutes of instruction three times in a year without an excuse note. It does seem like a rather low bar.

    I’m not sure what you mean by kids with excessive absences not counting as truant… Do you mean that kids with many excused absences may not be considered truant? I’d have to look into that.

    Replies

    • el 7 years ago7 years ago

      I am suggesting that it is a pretty low bar. IE - if I forget to call my child in sick during the second day she's out, she would count as truant. In fact at one point this did happen to our family with a scheduled multi-day absence that had been communicated and cleared with the teacher and the principal, but not to the person managing attendance. And yes, I suspect some kids with excessive excused … Read More

      I am suggesting that it is a pretty low bar. IE – if I forget to call my child in sick during the second day she’s out, she would count as truant. In fact at one point this did happen to our family with a scheduled multi-day absence that had been communicated and cleared with the teacher and the principal, but not to the person managing attendance.

      And yes, I suspect some kids with excessive excused absences wouldn’t count. Whether they should or not is probably not something that can be understood from aggregated data.

      If I understand correctly, in some cases, parents simply withdraw the child from school for a couple months, as in totally withdraw, take the child to visit family out of state, then come back and re-enroll.

      • Lillian Mongeau 7 years ago7 years ago

        Interesting… I’m going to look into that. Stay tuned.

      • CarolineSF 7 years ago7 years ago

        Quite a few families I know with some kind of planned absence have been contacted for technically violating truancy laws. Perhaps each of these planned absences should be evaluated for its legitimacy (though who is to judge?), but the fact is, these were kids traveling with their families by prearrangement.

  8. CarolineSF 7 years ago7 years ago

    This is a classic case of confusing correlation and causation: "...the likeliness of truancy, especially at the elementary level, to lead to dropping out of high school and becoming involved in crime." Almost all elementary school truancy is due to parental neglect/misconduct. Children of parents engaging in neglect and misconduct are obviously more likely to have life problems, including dropping out of high school and becoming involved in crime. Of course the parents should be made to … Read More

    This is a classic case of confusing correlation and causation: “…the likeliness of truancy, especially at the elementary level, to lead to dropping out of high school and becoming involved in crime.”

    Almost all elementary school truancy is due to parental neglect/misconduct. Children of parents engaging in neglect and misconduct are obviously more likely to have life problems, including dropping out of high school and becoming involved in crime.

    Of course the parents should be made to get the kids to school by whatever means is effective. But don’t get all confused about the correlation/causation.

  9. el 7 years ago7 years ago

    Really? 30 percent? That seems pretty high. And how many of them are paperwork snafus rather than kids actually missing school in a serious, evading sort of way? I’d like to better understand where that number comes from.

    Kids with excessive absences are not necessarily counted as truant, either. I’d be more interested in that percentage.