Truant citations don’t always solve the problem

Attendance Institute
Posted Jan 2, 2017
By Rick Carder

The number of students formally identified as truant in Ventura County fell by almost 78 percent between the 2015 and 2016 school years.

It would be great to learn that such a dramatic turnaround meant more kids were in class—but that’s not quite right.

The fact is that the decline came from a change in the process followed by school officials and the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office in determining when a student should be cited as truant.

That change was made, the District Attorney’s office told the Ventura Daily Star, because the prior system was considered too punitive.

“The whole point of this program is to help kids stay in school and impress upon the kids and their families the importance of education,” Stacy Ratner, whose unit at the DA’s Office oversees truancies, told the newspaper.

It’s an important point, and one that is often overlooked by policy makers, as well as parents and community stakeholders.

On the one hand, most states have laws that require compulsory attendance. When a student fails to meet the standards of the law, a criminal citation can be issued to either the student or the parents.

At the same time, absenteeism doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Sometimes there are circumstances that prevent a child from getting to class that the school district or other public agencies can help with.

As Ratner pointed out, when the response to the real world challenges is to just simply issue a citation, the problem doesn’t always go away.

“Some of the kids do respond to that, and that’s still a very viable option for us,” she told the Star. “But we really thought it was important to go deeper into outreach to see if there were other services that could be provided.”

We have worked with a number of district superintendents on best practices and the consensus is that schools need to fully exhaust their options in working with parents before a case gets referred for formal review.

There are many examples across the country of districts reaching out to families well ahead of a student becoming at-risk of being sanctioned. The message that resonates is that the district wants to partner with the family and help them address the challenges.

In some cases, there is a child care problem and an older sibling stays home to care for a younger one. There can also be transportation issues, where the family has just one car and it is needed by the parent that is employed.

Parents sometimes are not aware of the resources that district personnel can tap to help solve these challenges. It is often just a matter of sitting down in a non-judgmental environment and having a healthy exchange.

Some of these very ideas are being employed in Ventura and success is likely on the horizon.

“What we’re really trying to do is solve their problem, or help them solve their problem,” Ratner told the Star.

 

Rick Carder is Director of Public Relations at The Attendance Institute.