With the school year only two weeks away, roughly 56,000 students are expected to flood the doors of San Francisco campuses. However, at least 9,000 will stay away.
They are the kids who are chronically or habitually truant.
City officials say they are redoubling efforts to tackle the empty-seat syndrome that sucks millions of dollars in federal funding from the district, despite schools being forced to cut “attendance liaisons” who were working with schools where truancy is highest.
In addition to the school district, Mayor Gavin Newsom and District Attorney Kamala Harris have been making personal phone calls, knocking on doors and writing letters to parents whose kids are habitually truant. In some instances, legal action has been taken against parents and students.
During the summer, the District Attorney’s Office — for the first time ever — took 16 students to court who had been chronically truant during the spring semester.
The office hopes this drives home how serious The City is about truancy this school year.
“We can go into the schools and say this is really happening and it has a deterrent impact,” Assistant District Attorney Katherine Miller said.
But the schools cannot rely on prosecution as the only measure to cut truancy. Schools are looking to restructure how they track truant students, especially in light of the recent budget squeeze.
Schools this year were forced to cut the attendance liaisons, whose sole purpose was to track down and work with kids at risk of skipping school. Now, the district is looking to form teams, which could include retired teachers, to help manage attendance at schools that suffer from high truancy rates, Board of Education Vice President Hydra Mendoza said.
She said this year the district and The City will track which services are most utilized by kids who have been deemed truant. City and school officials will then look to redirect funding or spend more money on those programs that would better serve students who are struggling with truancy, which is often related to family problems, Mendoza said.
Also, the Mayor’s Office is expanding the Truancy Assistance Resource Center. The center is where kids are taken when they are found lingering on the streets during school hours.
The SFUSD and city officials are hoping a multipronged effort by various agencies will keep more students in their seats and off the streets.
56,000 Students in city schools in 2008-09 school year
3,000 Students considered habitually truant in ’08-09
6,000 Students considered chronically truant in ’08-09
10-19 Absences to be considered habitually truant
20-plus Absences to be considered chronically truant
30 Parents cited in the past three years by the District Attorney’s Office for truancy
16 Kids cited for truancy this year