SF cracks down on absent students

September 15, 2008 6:19:33 PM PDT
San Francisco kicked off a new campaign to stop kids from cutting school.

Truancy is such a big problem in this city, that 10 percent of all public school students have 10 or more unexcused absences a year. The plan is patterned after a successful program in another county.

San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris wants these kids to come to school every day. The new truancy prevention campaign has ads placed alongside 25 Muni buses.

"We've looked into it extensively all the way from kids being baby sitters of other little siblings, parents who have their own issues like drug addictions, a lot of different things, so there is nobody there to make sure the kids goes to school," says Superintendant Carlos Garcia.

The $20,000 campaign will be concentrated in three neighborhoods: The Mission, Bayview and Visitation Valley.

"What we know is there is a clear link between a child not receiving an education and that child ending up as a victim of crime or a perpetrator of crime," says Harris.

Ten or more unexcused absences makes a kid a habitual truant. A chronic truant is one with 20 or more.

In San Francisco, parents of truant students now face a fine or jail time. Last June, six parents were prosecuted and fined. Their kids had missed 50 days or more.

Holding parents accountable by prosecuting them has been very effective in one bay area county. Santa Clara County has the longest running truancy prevention program in California.

Lois Baer is with the Santa Clara County DA's Office. She started prosecuting parents 15 years ago. To date, less than 10 parents have served time, with 50 days in jail for a very few. Most end up getting an infraction.

"Last year, the most recent stats, 92 percent of the families who were prosecuted last year for truancy turned it around," says Baer.

Take San Jose Unified for instance. In 1998, the attendance rate at that district was a little over 93 percent. Today the district says last year's attendance rate was more than 96 percent.


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