SFUSD tries to curb truancy at elementary level 

High absenteeism in elementary schools has come into focus as the San Francisco Unified School District loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in state funding.

One way school districts receive funding is based on the average daily attendance of students. The more days students are in school, the more funding a district will receive at the end of the year. But at least 16 of The City’s 76 elementary schools exceed the national average for chronic absenteeism, according to the Board of Education. 

The majority of elementary schools plagued with high levels of absenteeism are in the Bayview, Mission and Western Addition neighborhoods, where at least 15 percent of the students are chronically absent, missing more than 10 percent of school days a year, whether excused or unexcused. At one Bayview elementary school, nearly 40 percent of students were chronically absent during the most recent school year.

“Fixing this problem is critical,” Mayor Gavin Newsom said. “There’s money attached from average daily attendance, so the school district has every incentive to prioritize this.”

Comparing the 2009-10 school year with the previous year, “there were 46 less habitual and 11 less chronically truant students” at the elementary school level, a 0.41 percent decrease. Also, there were 640 fewer days of school missed by those students designated as habitually truant at the elementary level.

“It’s a complex issue that can’t be solved like [high school] truancy,” Newsom said. “We can’t just send police to pick them up off the street. It’s about families and supporting families.”

The district said a wide web of staff and resources that have been put in place in recent years to reduce truancy has been working.

To battle unexcused absences, it uses support services such as counselors, nurses, and child welfare and attendance liaisons, and extensive processes that involve an attendance review board, administrators, the district attorney and parents.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Norman Yee is calling for the district superintendent to “reduce the student chronic-absentee rate to no more than 10 percent in any elementary school by the end of the 2012-13 school year.” He also has called for the district to gather, analyze and disseminate data on chronic absences “by grade, classroom and, if possible, by neighborhood,” and to identify the reasons kids are missing school, including the role of parents. 

“The younger they are, the quicker they develop their habits and perspectives,” Yee said. “If they think it is the norm to miss school, it won’t change that much when they’re older.”



No-show rates

1 in 10: Nationwide average for kindergartners and first-graders who are chronically absent

21 percent: Share of elementary schools in San Francisco that have chronic student absentee rate of 15 percent or higher

76: Number of SFUSD schools offering elementary level education

22,000: Approximate number of elementary school students in SFUSD

55,000: Approximate number of total students attending SFUSD schools, including elementary, middle and high schools

Sources: Board of Education, San Francisco Unified School District

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