This fall, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office, in partnership with the Contra Costa Superior Court and local school districts, will launch its first Parent Truancy Calendar. The purpose of this calendar is to combat chronic absenteeism among elementary and middle school students.
High rates of truancy, such as those in California, have a devastating social, economic and public safety impact. Children who do not attend school regularly at an early age fail to develop fundamental reading and math skills. These students are more likely to struggle academically and often drop out entirely.
Preliminary data from a California study found that children who were chronically absent in kindergarten and 1st grade were far less likely to read proficiently at the end of 3rd grade. Without successful completion of a high school education, these children are more likely to be unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders.
Truancy has been identified as a likely precursor to serious nonviolent and violent offenses among youth. In Contra Costa County, police have reported that 60 percent of juvenile crime occurs between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays, when children should have been in school.
School districts lose an estimated $1.4 billion per year by failing to get students to school because school funding is based on student attendance rates. The cost to the state is far greater. Factoring in the costs of incarceration and lost economic productivity and tax revenues, dropouts cost California an estimated $46.4 billion per year.
The new court proceedings in Contra Costa will place great emphasis on the parents’ legal obligation to ensure that their young children attend school on a daily basis. After reviewing the information from the School Attendance Review Board in cases of elementary and middle school chronically absent students, (students who have been absent from school for 10% or more of the school days in one school year), the District Attorney will consider charging parents with an infraction. Parents will be placed on a 12 month grant of probation, during which they may be required to attend parenting classes, family counseling and/or other service programs.
This holistic approach will educate parents about the importance of school attendance for their children’s future and will address the barriers that have led to their children’s chronic absenteeism. The parents’ progress will be monitored, and if after 12 months their children are attending school, the charges will be dismissed. This collaboration between the schools and the court will allow families to benefit from resources available through both systems.
Questions concerning the program should be addressed to Deputy District Attorney Laura Delehunt at (925) 957-8713.