Every year, truancy costs California schools $1.4 billion and can lead to school dropouts, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Three or more unexcused absences amount to truancy in terms of the law. A recent report by the Attorney General shows Inyo County has the second lowest truancy rate in the State with 5.1%. Mono County is listed at 26.7%. Local Mono officials believe that number is too high.
Inyo Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer said that Inyo’s low rate comes as a result of some hard work. Inyo has a policy in place that involves the courts, Probation and the District Attorney. McAteer explained that if a student shows “an excessive pattern of tardies, absences or cuts, the school meets with the student and their parents to resolve the issues.”
If that method fails, the parents and student are summoned to the courthouse for a Student Attendance Review Board hearing. Judge Dean Stout appointed McAteer and Probation Chief Jeff Thomson to serve on that Board. The District Attorney sends a letter, which is delivered by a Sheriff’s Deputy, summoning the family to a hearing at the courthouse. The Board listens to the school and the family and then makes a ruling or contractual agreement which binds the student to attend school.
School attendance is legally required and truancy violates California law. If elementary students violate their contract, their parents are fined up to $400 per violation. According to Superintendent McAteer, if a high school student violates an attendance contract, the Student Attendance Review Board “petitions the court to suspend or withhold the student’s driver’s license for a year.” If there is continued violation, the license may be withheld up to age 22. This is according to State law.
Superintendent McAteer said with this system in effect over the past five years, Inyo has seen schools be more proactive with truancy and the problem has dwindled. McAteer said over 85% of the cases the Board hears, which is about 40 per year, abide by the Board ruling and tardiness and absences go away.
According to the Attorney General’s report on truancy, Mono County has a 26.7% truancy rate. Officials are at work to correct problems. According to Mono District Attorney Tim Kendall, the Student Attendance Review Board meets every month to address truancy or behavioral problems at school. DA Kendall said officials from Eastern Sierra Unified School District, Mammoth School District, Public Health, Behavioral Health, Social Services, Probation, Sheriff, Police Department and DA are involved with the review board. He said the DA plays an integral part because family and/ or students may face charges under the Education Code.
Kendall said the goal is to ensure success. Families and the review board agree to a contract of action. Services to achieve the goal may include a number of things – from calling students every morning, addressing transportation issues or providing medical services. For those who fail to follow guidelines, sanctions can be imposed.
If students and parents fail to follow agreed on conditions, they may be referred to the Probation Department for more conditions, including counseling. If failure continues, the family is referred to the District Attorney where parents could face a criminal complaint or placement in a juvenile hall or group home.
DA Kendall and the co-ordinator of the Mono Review Board, Eastern Sierra Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Don Clark, both said the Attorney General’s truancy figures for Mono County seem too high for the real situation. Kendall said the County takes truancy very seriously and are “pretty much on top of it.”