A new program to battle truancy
Westside’s attendance-challenged stats similar to rest of District 11’s
Local officials gained another tool in the fight against secondary-school truancy with a recently implemented 4th Judicial District Attorney's Office program.
Aimed at helping education-avoiding students stay in school after receiving a court order to that effect, the low-cost program - funded by a $10 fee from each of the students being aided - essentially replaces a similar non-profit effort through City Police whose grant was discontinued a few months ago, according to Jerry O'Hare of the DA's Office.
The “School Counts” program, which started this month, is run by the DA's Juvenile Offender Services. “If we can do certain things with those kids, we've saved a lot of money and a lot of heartache,” O'Hare said. “That's what we're hoping to do.”
While supportive of any effort that keeps kids in school, Bob Carubia, District 11 attendance officer, pointed out that truancy is a problem that really affects a small sliver of the school population.
On the average, out of 30,000 students across the district, notice letters need to be out on fewer than 1,000 attendance-challenged students a year. These are students who have had four or more unexcused absences in a month or 10 in a year, Carubia said. That letter is enough to spark more than three-quarters of those receiving it to correct the problem. The remainder wind up appearing before a magistrate, who inevitably orders them to go back to school or face contempt charges.
The numbers are similar on the Westside. For example, in 2006-07, there were 837 referrals district-wide, with 231 of those making it to court. On the Westside in that time frame, the corresponding statistics were 81 and 18. Other similarities are in gender (about the same number of boy and girl offenders), and how the numbers increase through different school levels (few in elementary, more in middle school, most in high school). On the Westside, 55 of the 81 were high school, 21 middle school and 5 elementary. And of the 18 going to court, 1 was elementary, 2 middle school and 15 high school.
The students who've gotten court orders are the ones that School Counts seeks to help. According to O'Hare, the program creates a contract with those students to help them get squared away with school, and maybe even enjoy it. A key aspect is finding tutoring for them at their school (from teachers and/or other students), because truants “often are behind academically and are embarrassed, so they act out to cover that up,” he said.
Another goal is to help former truants connect with a “positive adult” within the school, so they don't feel so isolated. Community service hours are also required. “They can pick a non-profit, or we can trade those hours for tutoring,” O'Hare said.
A pragmatic reason for School Counts is to keep teens out of the Spring Creek juvenile facility, he noted. The idea is that Spring Creek is intended for truly criminal youths, whereas truancy can often be a result of a bad home, or even parents who don't get their kids to school. (In such cases, the parents themselves may wind up in front of the judge.)
Unfortunately, even court doesn't always get the job done. Carubia estimated that about 50 students a year (whether because of themselves or their family situation) do not abide by the court order, which puts them in contempt and potentially at Spring Creek. This is the kind of number School Counts is intended to lower.
Westside Pioneer article