Task Force Releases Reports Urging LA County to Change Approaches to Student Truancy
In a well-publicized case last year, a Long Beach native Emilia Zamora was arrested for her son's overt truancy; in other words, she was held legally liable for her son's excessive absence at school. It was part of Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert's Parent Accountability and Chronic Truancy (PACT) program that sets up a process for filing criminal charges against the parents of "chronic truants" and youths who continually break the law; it was in line with a state-wide law (Penal Code 270.1) which took effect on January 1,2011.
However, such an approach — at least following an in-depth task force's research — is proving ineffective in actually solving the problem.
The issue of truancy is one prevalent in Long Beach specifically as well as Los Angeles County as a whole, with truancy being defined as a student "who is absent from school without a valid excuse three full days or tardy or absent more than any 30-minute period during the school day without a valid excuse on three occasions in one school year" (EC Section 48260 (a)). Long Beach, as of the 2009-2010 school year, holds one of the highest truancy rates with a staggering 48.87%; the county during the same year held a 28.71%* truancy rate.
However, views are vastly changing — and quickly. In September of 2010, Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Michael Nash launched the School Attendance Task Force (SATF; formerly called the Truancy Task Force), which sought out to study the problem within the county.
The main stronghold of the task force was one of collaboration: instead of aproject initiated by a single institution or entity, a group of members from public school districts, charter schools, supervising judicial officers, city governments, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, the Los Angeles Probation Department, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors, defense attorneys, and numerous community- and faith-based organizations that work with students, parents, and families were all included to help further research on truancy, its effects, and how the Los Angeles County community as a whole can work to eradicate it. It's report was released and a press conference was held last week to discuss its findings.
Amongst the major points were fallacies that we had created about how to solve truancy along with ill-grounded correlations we had made as to the reason why truancy occurs. In the words of Judge Nash, "School attendance is often a complex issue, and there is no magic pill to cure its deficiencies, but this report reflects a positive start to improvement."
Key recommendations and insights included:
- Punitive approaches, including criminal charges, should be used only as a last resort to address attendance issues and only after multiple interventions have failed, because research shows that such methods have little impact and, in fact, actually increase the likelihood of school push-out and drop-out; and
- Every school district should make attendance a must-respond-to indicator and adopt a student attendance program that provides broad interventions for all students, more targeted interventions for students who meet the criteria for being at risk for poor attendance, and substantial interventions for students with intensive needs; and
- Youth-serving agencies should partner early and often with families and community-based organizations to understand the barriers to student attendance and maximize resources available to meet student needs.
A copy of the SATF report and an executive summary are available on the ECC website at:
*NOTE: The article linked to the Long Beach Post's coverage of Emilia Zamora incorrectly states a Los Angeles County-wide 2009-2010 truancy rate of 28.15%; that was the state's rate for the same year.