Innovative program combats truancy

Frequently Asked Questions about truancy
From the Office of the District Attorney

What does truancy mean?

Truancy is the unexcused or unverified absence from school, or class, without a proper consent from the school principal or personnel.

When is a student considered truant?

According to California law, children between 6 and 18 years of age must attend school, with a limited number of exceptions. Under state law, a student who, without a valid excuse, is absent from school for three full days in one school year is considered truant. Under the State Education Code, a student with unexcused absences totaling 10 or more days of school is considered a "habitual truant." A "chronic truant" is a student who had unexcused absences of 20 or more days.

My child is a habitual/chronic truant. What are the consequences?

The District Attorney's Office has been working with the school district to hold mediation sessions with parents and truant students. The goal of the Office and the School District is to ensure that children are going to school. For that reason, the two offices will continue to work with parents and students to get them back in school.

However, if habitual or chronic students continue to remain truant, despite repeated attempts to work with the students and their families, please know that the matter may be referred to the District Attorney and the courts. The California Education and Penal codes provide for serious consequences if convicted, and punishment can include up to a year in county jail and a fine of $2,500.

How big of a problem is it in San Francisco?

Data shows that truancy is an alarming problem in San Francisco's schools at all levels. San Francisco's truancy is worse than the statewide average and worse than Alameda, Contra Costs, Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Last year alone, there were nearly 5,500 habitual or chronic truants in San Francisco schools, 10% of San Francisco's total student body. Of those, nearly 2,500 (44%) were elementary school students. Two-thirds of habitually and chronically truant students in San Francisco schools are African American or Latino.

Why is truancy such a big deal?

The law recognizes that it is a crime for children to go uneducated. Elementary school students who develop truancy as a habit increasingly fall behind in middle school and high school, with lifelong consequences. Children who do not graduate from high school are far less likely to find a living wage job. It is estimated that high school dropouts cost California over $46 billion over the lifetimes of the 120,000 students who fail to graduate from each class, including nearly $10 billion from increased crime alone. Research shows that there is a strong connection between truancy and crime:

  • Children who do not graduate from high school are far more likely to be arrested for crime and also to become victims of violence.
  • Over the last four years, 94% of San Francisco's homicide victims under the age of 25 were high school drop-outs.
  • Researchers estimate that an increase of 10 percentage points in graduation rates could cut murders and assaults by 20 percent.

    I want my child to go to school but I'm having problems. Where can I go for help?

    The School District is ready and willing to work with you to resolve attendance problems as early as possible. Help is available at 701-STAY (7829). Please call to start getting assistance or if you have any questions.

    >> Related story: San Francisco cracks down on absent students

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