Letter threatens arrest over 12-year-old's missed Zoom class, Bay Area dad says

The school principal says her administration had no choice but to send the letter, given new state guidelines around virtual learning.
LAFAYETTE, Calif. (KGO) -- A parent in the East Bay city says a letter he received from his son's middle school, threatening the boy's arrest for missing less than two hours of Zoom class, is total overkill.

The school principal told ABC7 News, her administration had no choice but to send the letter, given new state guidelines around keeping better track of attendance as California public schools continue with mostly virtual learning.

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"This is our fourth child going through this middle school and out of the blue, we got a letter," explained Lafayette parent Mark Mastrov.

Mastrov received the letter after his seventh-grader missed exactly three 30-minute Zoom sessions, one day last month.

"He can become a truant of the state and he could be arrested," explained Mastrov, who said he immediately called an administrator at Stanley Middle School. "I said, 'Are you going to come and try to arrest my son at my home, or fine me for not getting him to his Zoom class perfectly, on time everyday?'"

Like his classmates at Stanley, Merek Mastrov spends up to seven hours a day attending virtual school via Zoom.

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It's been more than a month since public school districts in the Bay Area opted to return to online classes and educators and parents are starting to recognize the negative consequences of distance learning.

The letter from a Stanley administrator lists the three periods Merek missed and says, "When a student is absent without a valid excuse, the student is considered truant according to California law."
And down below, the letter lists six possible consequences, including:

"The pupil may be subject to arrest under Education Code Section 48264."

The principal at Stanley Middle School told us the letter is the result of new state guidelines passed this past summer, CA Senate Bill 98, which requires districts to keep a closer eye on student attendance.

Reached by phone, Principal Betsy Balmat told us, "The letter is part of our responsibility to the state for our student attendance review boards. As always, the schools have a responsibility to ensure students are engaged and learning."

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Balmat also said the Mastrovs should've received a phone call first, giving them a chance to clear their son's absences.

Mastrov told us he never received such a call and he's heard from other Lafayette parents who've received similar letters.

Now, he's writing to lawmakers, urging a change in state law.

"Obviously we're in a pandemic and Gov. Newsom is trying to manage it," said Mastrov, "but if the state of California is focusing on arresting 12-year-old children for missing 90 minutes of school in ten months, it's ridiculous."

California public schools traditionally rely on daily attendance numbers for their state and federal funding.

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