School budgets depend on curbing truancy

Ryan Flores, Staff Writer

On any average day, about 14% of Bear Creek students are absent from school.  With a population of over 2,100 students, that means approximately 300 students miss school each day. The California legislature defines a truant as a student who has three unexcused absences, three unexcused tardies for greater than 30 minutes of one class period or a combination of the two.

“​Truancy is a challenge impacted by direct or indirect internal and external factors that serve as barriers and/or challenges for our students daily attendance,” Lodi Unified Child Welfare and Attendance Coordinator Dr. Allen Dosty said.

Most students don’t understand why attendance is so important: schools receive money, known as ADA (Average Daily Attendance) for each day a student attends school. Lodi Unified School District loses $57 per absent student each day according to Dosty.

According to California Education Code 48205 and Lodi Unified Rule 5113, students shall be excused from school if the absence is due to the pupil’s illness, quarantine under the direction of a county health officer, medical, dental, optometrical or chiropractic services or to attend funeral services of the pupil’s immediate family.

Many factors can contribute to truancy, but according to the legal team, the three main ones are school issues, home issues and personal issues.

“Barriers or instabilities such as Students in Transition (Homeless and Foster Youth), basic health and mental health services, access to regular and adequate housing, transportation or other hardships all impact attendance,” Dosty said. “We also have those students who truly desire to attend school as required, but they have home responsibilities that impact their attendance, such as caring for younger siblings, caring for their parents, chores, etc. The problem is that we must continue to discover ways to address these barriers and challenges that negatively impact student attendance.”

After three or more unexcused absences or tardies greater than 30 minutes, a student is labeled “truant” and the first truancy letter is mailed home. Once the total of unexcused absences or tardies greater than 30 minutes reaches six or more, the student is labeled “habitually truant” and a second truancy letter is mailed home. After the second letter, parents are requested to attend a Student Attendance Review Team at their school site with an SAA to discuss attendance and be informed of the next steps.

Once a third letter is sent, the student is labeled “chronically truant” and the parent is asked to attend a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) hearing.

“At the SARB hearing, the SARB Committee has the authority to place the parent and student on an SARB contract for one calendar year with specific stipulations,” Dosty said. “Additionally, once the DA referral is submitted and unexcused absences continue, the parent can be cited by law enforcement for violating the compulsory education laws and the SARB contract.”

Parents can be fined up to $2,500 or may face up to one year in jail if a court determines that he or she contributed to the delinquency of their children.

“I think that these are fair consequences because the school loses money when students don’t attend,” senior Brandon Mak said.

With the large number of students with many absences, sometimes truant students do not receive letters and therefore go without consequence.

“We must recognize that our system is not perfect, but as a department we work extremely hard to ensure that we have minimal students who fall through the cracks.” Dosty said. “But there are instances when truancy letters may not be received, such as the incorrect address in the system, the student no longer attends our school, the student may not have a permanent dwelling or transferred placements.”

California has very strict truancy laws because they do not want to waste any of the $76.7 billion dollars spent on education every year.

“Students should appreciate school because we get free education and we get to hang out with our friends and socialize while eating black mac in the cafeteria,” Mak said.