The Plumas Sun is publishing this statement as a public service announcement provided by Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister.
The Plumas County District Attorney’s Office continues to partner with Plumas County schools in combatting truancy. Our goal in engaging truancy is not to prosecute parents but, rather, engage in all efforts to assist a family in having their children attend school and thrive during their Plumas County education.
The academic success of our children is of such importance the Plumas County DA’s office dedicates one of its investigators to focus on truancy prevention. DA Investigator Shawn Adams leads the Plumas County DA’s truancy prevention efforts and works with schools throughout the county. Our goal continues to be securing attendance with the prosecution of truancy as a last resort.
Truancy and Chronic Absence Defined
In California mandatory education is the law. Children 6 to 18 must attend school regularly, arrive on time and remain in school until dismissed.
Truant – Students who are absent from school three nonconsecutive days or are late more than 30 minutes for three days in a school year (without accepted excuse) are considered truant.
Chronically Absent – Students who miss more than 10% or more enrolled days in school are considered chronically absent.
For purposes of this discussion, truancy and chronic absence will be referred to under the generic term of “truancy.”
Why School Attendance is Important
Our recent battle with the Covid-19 pandemic was particularly tough on school attendance. A study by the Universities of Tennessee and California along with Attendance Works found in the 2018-19 school year (prior to Covid), one in six students were truant. These numbers doubled after Covid to one in three students being truant.
While education may be a key to success, truancy has been demonstrated to be a gateway to economic hardship, and worse. Truancy has been linked to school dropout and poor academic performance and increases the likelihood youth will engage in drug and alcohol use, fighting, theft, and more serious forms of delinquency. Over the long term, adults who were chronically truant as adolescents are more likely to have poorer health outcomes, lower paying jobs, and a greater chance of being incarcerated during their lifetimes (Truancy: A Research Brief, 2013, Sydney McKinney).
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office reported 78% of prison inmates had truancy as their first entry on their arrest record, 67% of truants tested positive for drugs at the time they were detained for truancy and 82% of prisoners are school dropouts.
In addition to truancy’s burden on limited school resources, it can also affect other students. A study by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which analyzed fourth graders in 705 New York City public schools from 2001 to 2008, found that students with high attendance rates suffer academically from attending a school with high absenteeism. For example, a student with above-average attendance enrolled in a school with above-average attendance rates will likely have better scores on their fourth-grade assessment than if the student went to a school with below-average attendance rates. (The High Cost of Truancy, August 2015, Farah Z. Ahmad and Tiffany Miller).
Addressing Truancy in Plumas County
Given the importance of school attendance, Plumas County schools undertake exceptional steps, consistent with the Education Code, to make sure our children are in school, on time and ready to learn. Here is a look at the process…
If a student becomes truant, a Tier 1 Intervention letter is sent to the parents providing notice of this issue and offering available services to remedy the problem. The school may also refer the student to on-site services.
Should absences continue, a second letter (Tier 2 Intervention letter) is sent to the parents echoing the first letter. Often this letter will accompany a referral to the DA Investigation Office for in-person visits, counseling and focused attention on attendance. During the period of time giving rise to the first two truancy letters, school site administrators, teachers and staff engage in additional efforts involving home visits, counseling, etc.
Should absences continue, a Tier 3 Intervention letter will be issued and the student and parents will be referred to the SARB process. SARB is the Student Attendance Review Board which is comprised of educators and other community members and is designed to identify and resolve persistent student attendance issues. Plumas County’s SARB invites members from the involved school, school district, DA’s office, the Social Services Department, the Sheriff’s Office and Probation.
Should a student continue to be truant after all of the school site efforts, three intervention letters and a SARB hearing, the matter will be referred to the DA’s office for investigation and prosecution. At this time the parents of the child will be directed to attend a “citation hearing” where the parents will meet with a prosecutor and the assigned DA Investigator. During this meeting the parents will be informed of their legal responsibilities as well as the consequences of continued truancy. Again, efforts will be made to identify and correct issues relating to truancy.
Should all of these efforts fail, the parent and/or the student may be prosecuted. A parent convicted under California’s truancy laws (see Sections 270, 270.1 and 272 of the Penal Code) can be sentenced to up to one year in county jail and ordered to pay a fine of up to $2,000 plus penalty assessment. Students (if a minor) who are found to be truant can be fined, ordered to attend school on the weekend, perform community service work and have their driver’s license suspended for up to one year (see Section 48264.5 of the Education Code).
At the DA’s Office, we are mindful of the many challenges families face in our post-Covid, post-Dixie Fire environment and make problem-solving our “go to” approach. Where our grace lessens is when children are prevented from attending school due to a parent’s desire to sleep in, abuse drugs or alcohol, not prioritize their parental duties or other similar poor choices. Such an apathetic approach not only harms such a parent’s child but also the child’s classmates, school and our community.
Thank you all, in advance, for your help and cooperation in supporting our schools. By coming together and supporting each student’s attendance, we can help provide a path towards better outcomes for our students, our schools and Plumas County.