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October 22, 2021

County hopes to crack down on truancy

Students in San Benito County have an attendance problem and
superintendent Tim Foley has a stack of records to prove it.
Students in San Benito County have an attendance problem and superintendent Tim Foley has a stack of records to prove it. He also has a plan to stop it. The San Benito County Office of Education is taking a closer look at the complex issue of truancy in the schools. Addressing the problem of elementary through high school students not attending class, the County Office of Education has started its own Truancy Reduction Program called “Every Day Counts,” which will be a community-wide campaign.

It’s about time according to Deborah Botts, the chief probation officer for the county. She said making sure students spend six hours a day in the classroom is crucial to their success later in life.

“When a child is truant, they get so far behind they really can’t catch up,” she said. “They’re also more likely to get involved in violent behavior, get pregnant or use drugs and alcohol. It’s a life thrown away, and it all begins with missing school.”

One student in Foley’s file has missed 40 days of school just this year, and she has already been held back a grade once before.”We can’t keep her back another year so what do you do?” he said. “Nobody wants to be a bad parent. We want to talk with these families and as a community, provide them with support so we can find out what’s keeping their children from going to school.”He said it’s a complex issue because there are many different reasons why younger children miss class and why a high school student will ditch.

“At the elementary level, you have parents who are neglecting, and at the high school level, you have kids with different priorities,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is look at the ways we can support all these families.”

Community members will begin to see posters throughout town offering information about how to talk with truants and how to inform the schools if they see students wandering the streets during school hours.

“We’re hoping to have these posters in businesses where if a worker sees school-aged kids come in, they’ll ask them why they’re not in class,” said Mike Sanchez, county director of alternative education. “The whole idea of the posters is so school attendance awareness is heightened.”

The effort made by the Office of Education will be supported by the District Attorney Office’s Truancy Mediation Program. Established about a year ago, students who have a number of unexcused absences receive a letter home explaining they need to meet with the DA’s Office and discuss the problem. After a resolution has been made, a contract is signed by the DA, the student, parent and the school. If the contract is broken, the parents can face criminal charges and the student can face probation, according to Deputy District Attorney Denny Wei.

“There is no grade level that is immune to this problem,” Wei said.

For the lower grades, the “Every Day Counts” program will reach out to parents, offering them information about the importance of their child’s education. It will also offer assistance in solving situations happening at home, and in turn, help prevent them from having to pay the DA a visit.

Sanchez said the committee developing the campaign has personnel from elementary schools and high school to make sure everyone’s concerns are addressed.

“This is the first big step,” he said. “We’re starting to share the challenges we all have.”

Budgeting for the project hasn’t been officially planned out, but Foley said some money will come from Title I, which is provides federal funding for projects like this.

“This is an important issue that we can’t let finances get in the way of,” he said.

The idea of connecting the community with the schools in this effort is something Foley said is necessary to fight this problem.

“I think for a long time now, this community has had a casual attitude toward this problem and it hasn’t been a priority,” he said. “But this program will educate people and hopefully bring a new attitude toward the subject.”

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