Chronic absenteeism can mess up a student’s record, so it’s no surprise that long-term studies that track high school dropouts trace academic troubles to attendance problems.
Many local school districts are doing what they can to encourage kids to show up for class, even though many just never know what might keep a student away from school.
"In some instances families are having hard times," explains Angela Brantley, chair of Rialto Unified's student attendance review board. "They’ve gone through foreclosure. They’re transitioning from place to place. And there’s some valid reasons why kids aren’t going to school."
Brantley says it’s her mission to knock down those barriers.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson praised Brantley and her colleagues, along with administrators at 11 other districts, for developing stand-out programs that have boosted attendance.
Torlakson’s office has focused a lot on cutting absenteeism. Chronic truancy costs public school districts millions of dollars a year in lost income and greatly increases the prospect of students dropping out of school.
Rialto Unified has reduced truancy rates by 10 percent — that’s almost 3,000 more students in class every day, Brantley says.
"We’ve included Saturday programs to allow students who really do have valid excuses to recover their days," she said.
Something else that has helped is the state’s Chronic Truancy Law that went into effect last year. It makes it a misdemeanor for parents to keep a child out of school for more than 10 percent of the school year. Violators face fines up to $2,000.
The State Office of Public Instruction gives school districts with model dropout reduction programs bragging rights — they can retain their title through the next academic year and help guide attendance review boards in other districts.