Truants threatened with legal action 

High school students who ditch too many classes could face legal problems under a new strategy from District Attorney Kamala Harris to curb truancy.

For about four years, parents of elementary and middle school children have faced misdemeanor charges if their kids racked up too many unexcused absences. Now, Harris said students themselves will be receiving citations for
missing school.

Those infractions would allow a judge to order a student to attend school. If a student does not comply, they could face penalties as stiff as jail time if found in contempt of court, Harris said.

“The focus is going to be more on the responsibility of that teenager to get themselves to school and stay in school,” Harris said. “If after many interventions that had led to that point, they fail to do what the courts tell them to do, then it can be prosecuted as a misdemeanor.”

The District Attorney’s Office reported that during the summer, 16 high school students went before a judge for their truancies in the 2009-10 school year. One student had 17 unexcused days and a total of 289 missed classes. Another missed 138 classes.

Mayor Gavin Newsom also has concentrated on truancy, visiting the homes of truant students. He helped start the Truancy Assessment and Resource Center at 44 Gough St., where kids can get back into school without dropping out.

Budget cuts at the school district have led to layoffs of so-called attendance liaisons, whose sole purpose is to track down and work with kids who might skip school.

There were 4,500 fewer days of school missed by “habitual” and “chronic” truant students in school year 2009-10 compared to 2008-09, according to the San Francisco Unified School District. At the elementary school level, there was a 17 percent decline in missed school days and a 33 percent reduction in absences for previously chronic truants during the past two school years.

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