The Chron reported on Tuesday that recent efforts to combat chronic truancy in the San Francisco Unified School District yielded modest returns especially at the K-5 level, where the number of students with 20 or more unexcused absences dropped by 23 percent over last year. The results were less impressive in the upper grades. Truancy dropped by 4 percent in middle school, but rose 2 percent in high school. To be fair, it sounds like the school district focused on the lower grades. Last year, around 100 families were directed to intervention programs where the consequences of truancy were spelled out in clear terms. And seven families were sent to court. After all, it’s against the law to let your kids skip school.
San Francisco’s anti-truancy results come as Oakland Unified prepares to close a truancy center in West Oakland because it’s not working and costs the district around $1.2 million a year. School districts lose money every time a student is truant, so a truancy center should at least pay for itself. A source says that one of the chief reasons it failed was because Oakland Police Department officers who picked up truant kids resented the time it took to deliver them to the West Oakland Truancy Center. Plans to open an East Oakland Truancy Center never materialized. In 2007-08, OPD picked up 592 truants, which is only a fraction of the 4,000 truants in Oakland skipping school on any given day in that year.
Today, the number should be less. While the Truancy Center was not a success, OUSD reports it has made strides in reducing the number of truants. Last school year, elementary truants dropped by 27 percent, middle schools reported an impressive 18 percent decline, and high school truancy came down by 1.5 percent.
Taking a tougher stance with parents in the San Francisco model is not something that’s likely to happen in Oakland. According to sources in OUSD, Gail Brewster Bereola, the presiding judge of Juvenile Court at the Alameda County Superior Court, is opposed to measures that would punish parents for truant children.