Truancy starts earlier than you might think

Last school year, one-third of the Oakland school district’s elementary schoolchildren missed at least three full days of school, unexcused. Of those, 1,482 missed 10 days or more, according to district data (and my own basic math). That’s 7 percent — one in every 14 kids in grades K-5.

At Brookfield Elementary, the percentage was much higher; 29 percent of the children missed 10 days or more without a valid reason given to the attendance clerk. At Reach Academy and Santa Fe Elementary, 28 percent of the children missed at least two weeks of school.

How did those schools do on the California Standards Tests? I wonder how many of the students who tested “below basic” were frequently missing from class.

Brookfield: 36 percent proficient or advanced in reading; 30 percent below or far below basic. In math, 49 percent proficient; 21 percent below or far below basic.

Reach: 13 percent proficient or advanced in reading; 64 percent below or far below basic. In math, 28 percent proficient; 43 percent below or far below basic.

Santa Fe: 27 percent proficient or advanced in reading; 39 percent below or far below basic. In math, 36 percent proficient; 34 percent below or far below basic.

I observed Alameda County’s truancy court earlier this month for a story that’ll be in tomorrow’s paper. One mother was there because records showed her child had only attended 38 full days of the 180-day year. The family had undergone more than its share of tragedy that year, deputy District Attorney Teresa Drenick said in court, before the judge referred the family to counseling.

Drenick said most of the families she sees are overwhelmed by their life circumstances — mobility, homelessness, etc. — or their mental, emotional or physical conditions. Sometimes, she said, they need the court to step in.

Drenick helped draft a bill by Mark Leno, which the Legislature could pass this week or next, that would allow the the D.A. to charge parents of chronic elementary/middle school truants — those who’ve missed 10 percent of the year or more — with a misdemeanor, rather than an infraction.

The parents may enter a guilty plea and have the judgment deferred. She says they’ll only end up in court after they’ve failed to respond to the school district’s warnings and services.

What do you think about SB 1317?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.tigerthegecko.blogspot.com maestra

    I had a kid who missed 70+ of the 180 school days. I asked the administration every few days to take some sort of action but nothing was ever done because the kid was still near grade level.

  • Jenna

    In the small town my sister lives in up north in California parents who have children late or missing more than 10 days a school year without a doctor’s excuse must have community service with their children on Saturdays.

    The hearing is within 10 days after the 10th day of lateness or absence. I think they use a board made up of principals, teachers, parents and community members. If parents do not complete the community service, a court action is started and the parents’ names are printed in the paper with a statement that they have not been convicted yet.

    The overwhelming majority of these parents are not homeless, but did start having their children in high school, are not in stable relationships, did not complete high school and are not, nor have they ever been employed.

  • Mahasin

    SB 1317 is crazy. It would pump more money into an already failed injustice system, only bringing results by filling up the jail cells and causing undue hardship to already struggling families. The obvious results would be criminalization along the lines of race gender and class. If getting the children to school and to school on time is an issue, re-establish the formerly popular and effective school bus system.

    No. The criminal justice system can’t make money off of school buses and on time children. Nor will assistant D.A., Teresa Drenick, improve her career through her record number of convictions if there is a way around this problem.

    Katy Murphy pull your head out of the sand. These same schools you mention are in areas with high levels of crime, massive school closures, a horrible public transportation system and overwhelming school budget cuts, most of which are directly to student services and class rooms. All of this while the city of Oakland prioritizes trying to rehire 80 or so laid off police officers. What about the 200 laid off teachers?

    I am a parent who was brought up on charges by assistant D.A. Teresa Drenick, for truancy of my three home-schooled children. The Alameda Unified school District and Mrs. Drenick spitefuly tried to charge me with a misdemeanor. There are hundreds of economically challenged single moms like my self who will find themselves sitting in this court room or worse behind bars instead of caring for their children.

    Let’s work on solutions for our problems not criminalization as a solution.

  • Gordon Danning


    The City of Oakland does not employ schoolteachers; therefore, they did not lay off teachers and cannot rehire them.

  • Katy Murphy

    Mahasin: Are you saying it’s inevitable that public elementary schools in high-poverty, high-crime areas will have such high truancy rates, or that the problem should be addressed in a less punitive way, without pulling families into court?

  • J.R.

    You must parse the reality correctly, the city(council) defines the budget they have(revenue from local and state taxes) with which city entities, such as the school district office must hire employees(teachers). Though you are factually correct that the city doles out the money to pay teachers.

    It is much like the oft-proclaimed statement that “the teachers union does not hire and fire teachers”, when in reality they have created the terms,procedures and conditions by which teachers are hired and fired(it is essentially the same thing, without having to take direct responsibility for it). It really depends what the meaning of “is” is.

  • J.R.

    This is off topic but if you want to see a perfect example of uncoordinated thinking of edu-crats just watch this(it’s amazing):


  • Jim Mordecai


    No, Oakland City Council has nothing to do with the Oakland School budget.

    School districts are a creation of the state. The 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution implies education is a responsibility of each state because the U.S. Constitution does not mention education. The budget of a district is controlled by state laws. A City may send money to a district by way of a parcel tax but a parcel tax never touches a city budget and the money is collected by the county and not the city.

    Finally, the teachers that were laid off was a decision of the Oakland School Board and the City of Oakland had nothing to do with that action.

    Jim Mordecai

  • Nextset


    I hate to shout it, but have you worked with the underclass lately? They don’t know where they are going to be living month to month – they move frequently. Their cars break down a lot – they don’t maintain them. Plus their cars get repossessed/impounded regularly since they are used for title loans and they are driven as a matter of course by people without licenses – who get pulled over a lot. Then you have that problem about the drugs/alcohol/violence/molest issues.

    While the older children may be able to get themselves to school using monthly bus passes, hitchhiking, walking or with friends, the younger children are more dependent on baby momma, baby daddy, grandmothers or their current lovers to get them to school. So dysfunctional family equals more little kids not going to school.

    And underclass families don’t value any kind of education – some absolutely loathe it for reasons good to them.

    If the kids aren’t in school they only thing to do is turn in child abuse/neglect reports and go about your business with those who do attend school.

    The only true solution of permanent removal of the children to decent homes, and cessation of funding to the underclass to reproduce (no AFDC, No Medi-Cal, No Food Stamps, Calcutta Level poverty).

    Or maybe some other solution. Either way, the teachers are in no position to fix the world, they have enough to do inside the classrooms.

  • J.R.

    The school district(for all intents and purposes a local entity) has a budget(per the state and city tax revenue)the state cannot touch education money that are from taxes specifically meant for education at the local level. The district office hires and fires teachers, and I never stated that the city(council or otherwise had anything to do with it). The school boards OK’s(if necessary) decisions that are made by the district office. The district office makes personnel decisions.

  • Nextset

    I re-read my earlier post. It sounds harsh. What I mean to say is that the general classrooms teachers have a job and social worker for the families is not one of them. The districts need to employ social workers if they want that function done under the umbrella of the district administration.

    The most the teachers can do is speedy submission of child abuse & neglect reports to police and CPS while they complete the classroom work they are charged with. Classroom teachers cannot carry the social problems of the children’s families outside of the classroom.

    That is covered by the job descriptions of others such as CPS, the police, the DA, the courts, and the welfare workers. These are the state workers that police the behavior of the parents (and placement of the children), not the teachers.

    in order for our teachers to have a chance of succeeding their job and duties must be clear and manageable. Throwing responsibility for the success, happiness or even the behavior of these people outside of the classroom muddies the water so that we cannot get a clear vision of that a classroom teacher needs to be. To support our teachers we have to protect them from endless “responsibility” for what they are not responsible for.

    If a child or family needs a special program, the schools often arrange one. The special school for the Motel Children of Anaheim comes to mind. Special Needs kids should be in a program suited for them, not in a mainstream academic school they are doomed to fail in. And they shouldn’t be dumped on teachers in a program where they are certain to fail. A good school does match the child to the program – like the Anaheim Schools and the Motel Kids (Google it). They did manage the absenteeism/hunger/transportation problem for the transient motel kids with a special school for the primary kids.

    This is not a teacher problem it is a school administration problem.

  • Hills Parent 13

    Hi Nextset, I just wanted to say that I always enjoy reading your posts. They may not be pc, but I generally find that there is a lot of truth to what you are writing… it’s just that people don’t want to admit it or see it that way. I like that you call it like it is, aren’t afraid to offer harsh, honest assessments and that your suggestions are practical.

    Clearly the system is failing a great many students – those at the top and those at the bottom. We should come up with something more suitable to our current day realities and that includes a functional path and curriculum for the non-college bound students. Vocational or trade schools are an excellent idea. Meanwhile, for those high-achievers, there should be plenty of options to challenge them. These are the very same kids that OUSD should want to keep, but by not designing schools or programs to meet their needs, families will continue to look at private schools or moving to find the education that they desire for their children.

  • Nextset

    The thread is more focused on the legislation than any criticism of teachers – I’m still concentrated on tying teacher pay to performance and how that will (to me) unfairly penalize teachers of black and brown students.

    The legislation ups the penalties to misdemeanor level for parents of truants. This is probably a very good idea because that is the only way to get control of the deadbeat parents. An infraction scares no one and fails to get control of any defendant. Misdemeanor treatment at least gives you some of the controls used in Drug Court, or Mental Health Courts around the state, – or Drunk Driving Court or Wife (Baby Momma) Beater Court or Suspended Driver’s License Court (that’s a misdemeanor also) for that matter.

    These are specialized court calendars that are run for just those cases typically with defendants who volunteer their cases into that calendar with the promise of eventual dismissal if they clean up their acts and go through certain hoops. Often the cases are done without defense attorneys and prosecutors and the judge works with social workers who see the defendants weekly or more, down to monthly or less. They get the defendants into programs, clear up their other cases such as traffic tickets, get them into social services such as education, voc ed, job placement, medical clinics and whatever else they can cobble together to try to “fix” the defendant. It’s really good deal for everybody and it usually works out. You may have to throw them in jail a few times to make it clear who is the tail on the dog.

    Creating a misdemeanor for the behavior we want to get control of is the first hurdle to creating these subject matter court calenders, infractions don’t cut it. So this is probably a good thing.

    Under the old scheme, although it was an infraction to be a parent of the truant, the court could issue orders to take the kid to school and if violated, jail the parent for contempt without a jury trial for each violation of that order. That old scheme doesn’t fit in the new social-worker court calendar scheme. Leno is a notorious liberal, he is probably pushing the legislation in the (correct) belief it will actually be used to provide services as opposed to jailing the baby mommas for any real period of time.

    And once they are in court they can clear all their other cases at the same time. It’s a good deal. If it works for the suspended driver’s licenses it will work for the parents of truants. They are all misdemeanors and they only go to jail when they will not work with anybody.

    And if they co-operate they sometimes get a happy meal coupon, or whatever else is available as a gold star.

  • laura j

    I am a teacher in North Oakland and one of my many challenges is attendance in my classroom. While it may be easy for some to argue that I should teach the students who are there and forget little J, M, and P who have missed 1/3 of the school year, it is easier in theory than in practice. They still need to be taught the material and as their teacher it is my responsibility to expose them to it– especially when I am required to test them on said material and my teaching ability will be questioned if they do badly.

    While I understand that for some families school is not high on their list of priorities(they may be struggling with homelessness, transportation issues, domestic violence, drug addiction etc– Huge issues that I can’t even conceive of) I need help getting them in the classroom ONTIME! I have tried everything I can think of– home visits, star charts,prizes,SST meetings, SART, carpools, breakfast.

    Maybe charging families with a misdemeanor will help. its more than I can do.

  • Mahasin

    As we usher in tough misdemeanor penalties and law enforcement of parents it should be matched by finger pointing and tougher standards for teachers. Let’s try upping the performance standard for teachers. All students should score eighty percent or we fire these teachers whose students have below standard test scores. Sound heartless? So is the kick in the teeth to already struggling, marginalized families by criminalizing poor attendance.

    While the legislation is probably designed to increase daily pupil attendance monies from the state for financially strapped schools, the effects can devastate some families.

    I propose we try a realistic approach. If getting to school is a problem offer an alternative to traditional schools: bring back afternoon and evening schools, provide information on home-schooling, independent study programs, open up and vocational programs for those who have an interest, and bring back the once very effective school bus program.

  • susan

    If you have heard Dr. Tony Smith discuss his vision for schools, he talks about addressing the issue with African American students first and foremost.

    Now, there is a huge need with this and other populations including Latinos who are becoming the largest group in the state, however his message sounds much like the same.

    If a society that has continually made excuses and services avaulable to meet those excuses, when will we ever discuss true responsibiltiy for actions? What do we expect? Fast food creates obesity. Drugs creates an ill soceity. Entitlement programs create dependence! Its simple.

    If a population continues to be catered too and recieves preferential treament through services, excuse making, without a penalty or cut off demanding change; there is no incentive to cease their patterns of destruction.

    If you have ever had a person in your family who has required an intervention, was it a hug that snapped them out of it? Probably not.

    A Tough stance is required. Yes, if entitlements and welfare are cut off, it will make it a tough time for a generation, but tough love breeds change that may eventually blossom in subsequent generations.

    Making more excuses and blaming schools, teachers, etc without pointing fingers at the population itself is a mistake. I support teachers and schools that hold the line because I have, and many of you that have kids in public schools, witnessed the beligerance of some parents that have made excuse after excuse about why their kids cant show up to school!

    To me, accepting that is a crime. I support the truancy laws, but like Nexset, doubt that a Leno authroed bill has the tough love intent tied with it. Shame on liberals-and Im a liberal!

  • Nextset

    Laura J – in a real school, students who are truant are Expelled. You don’t try to teach a truant, you don’t try to “catch up” a truant, and you don’t have to worry about the effect a truant’s test scores will have on your stats.

    Because they are gone. Expelled to the continuation school they belong in.

    OUSD is not exactly worried about running real schools, the district is in this for the money and perhaps to perpetuate pretend “teaching” jobs for the pretend teachers of the pretend “students”. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing in a depression. And I’m sure that as they water down education they really think they are “helping” the largely black and brown problem children.

    No, I’d rather have real schools with real standards with a real high flunk rate backed up with a robust set of continuation schools and alternative and voc ed schools. Academic Programs are not for everyone and they sure aren’t for anyone who doesn’t want to be there and can’t show up either.

    You don’t have truancy problems in real schools. Insubordination and violence problems either. I never had them in my secondary schools. I don’t think the black and brown students of OUSD should have to have them either – just because they are too poor to avoid OUSD.

  • Oakland Teacher

    A six year old whose mom can’t get him to school on time does not belong in a continuation school.

  • Nextset

    Oakland Teacher – I agree. He probably does belong in a program for children of disfunctional mothers though.

    In every school system there are disfunctional families with children who are at-risk and who need to be in programs that will allow them to accomplish the most. The Anaheim Special Schools for the Motel Kids is a prime example of one public school district dealing with the special needs of the motel kids (children of trash parents who don’t provide decent homes for them). That school provides food and a safe and stable place for the kids and arranges their transport from the rapidly shifting locations they live in (changes from week to week). The expect to handle the crisis kids and their varied education needs (including clothing, first aid etc).

    Understand that I am never throwing out “continuation” school as some kind of punishment station. It is a variety of schools and programs set up to handle the special needs of kids that (no matter the reason) can’t make it and don’t belong in regular and competitive schools.

    Because we should not be enrolling students in schools where they are not reasonably expected to fit in, and at the same time we should not be running our academic schools at the lowest common denomimator of cognitive skill and deportment either.

    Yes I’m talking about a system of segregated schools, where the higher schools are run to the tougher standards common in the pre integration early 1960s and the lesser schools are not – or at least have the special ed and special needs kids who cannot keep up and measure up in the competitive schools. Enrollment is at will, but transfers can be forced.

    And everybody gets their needs met.

  • Mahasin

    Nexset- How did the segregation work for Columbine High? Did it save people from the black and brown take over? Yeah right!

    Test scores and acheivement rates in the bay area are simular to those in predominately white mining towns in Virgina, where certain schools are neglected by the boards and government that run these schools-like all over America.

    We should be looking for solutions to our problems not racist classist finger pointing.

    Good luck America

  • Nextset

    Mahasin: I don’t see what Columbine High has to do with sorting schools and students by suitability for academic programs – vs special/voc/alternative ed programs.

    Maybe you can explain it for everyone.

    Your second paragraph is not clear. Are you trying to argue that the Bay Area Schools are similar to West Virginia? That’s novel. And silly. Bay Area Schools range from SF’s Lowell High and Piedmont’s Piedmont High School to the dregs of Oakland Unified and East Palo Alto schools. Which are we speaking of? What do you mean “neglected by the boards”? The boards in each case carefully plan, plot and structure their schools so that Lowell is Lowell and Castlemont is Castlemont or whatever. What neglect??

    “Racist Classist Finger Pointing”? Listen Comrade – even the Soviet Union never ran such bad schools as this. There is nothing “racist” with objective standards of performance and deportment imposed on a school. THAT’S WHY OUSD WON’T DO IT. You see, it’s racist to force our black and brown kids to go to these schools – these black schools – when the Jewish, White and Asian kids at Piedmont never have to go to school with such (poor) conditions. They get strict, well run schools BECAUSE they are what (and where) they are. Otis and Latifa don’t. THATS RACIST. So to make is clear enough for you to grasp, I’m saying this current system is a racist system that keeps minorities down – the bad black schools. We were better off in 1950.

    I say all kids, even the negroes, should be able to apply for and if qualified be able to attend a Lowell or similar school. Blacks should not have to go to a dump because of their zip code. And if upon arrival at a “good” school they don’t cut the mustard (attendance, performance and deportment) if they don’t re-enroll to a more suitable school they would be transferred or flunked out. Under such a system you would not have people of all color turning 18 with no idea of the term “personal responsibility”. They don’t get the ten commandments either (ie Fantasia B).

    Actually such an improved school system (tracking campuses) would greatly assist immigrants in leap frogging over the natives into the upper classes but that’s another subject. As it is they are managing anyway.

    Brave New World.

  • Katy Murphy

    Richmond has established a daytime curfew in an attempt to fix its truancy problem (focusing on the older absentees). My colleagues Karl Fischer and Shelly Meron wrote this story about it:


    What do you think about that strategy?

  • Nextset

    Truant children are gang and crime problems. They and their parent(s) should be sanctioned strongly enough to keep them managed. IF you have a functioning state.

    Working sanctions should include “arrest on sight” policies. As the price of computers has fallen you would think the municipalities would get efficient on picking up the truants. It just hasn’t happened yet. You must assume people and organization always intend the logical result of their actions and inactions.

    Therefore, it’s reasonable to decide the school districts don’t want the truant kids at their premises.

    If they did they’d have a webpage or even a paper bulletin with names addresses and photos of wanted kids, who should be picked up and delivered to the school truant center. It is really easy to produce such a thing and to post it to the local police patrol division.

    I don’t think the schools want the throw away kids. They may have to pretend they do for political reasons but the ADA money is not enough to deal with the worst of the trash kids.

    The city on the other hand has crime every day these hard core truants are out running the streets. Their parent(s) aren’t going to accompany them all day, they are free range delinquents. So the city, not the schools, have the motive to arrest them and transport them to the school truant center. Thus the attempts at daytime curfews (arrest on sight policies).

    So have at it. Arrest them all you want, the schools do not want to see them. They only pretend to.

    The real solution is less unwanted children. We can fix that real fast with welfare policy change (ie no welfare or free labor and delivery services combined with free abortion on demand, easy adoptions, easy permanent child removal from unfit parents or poor parents, child custody policy that disfavors mothers and favors breadwinners). This will not happen until the USA Gov’t as we know it falls – which is certainly increasingly possible.

    So what is going to happen is that the cities will try new curfew policies which may change the visibility and number of truants – if the city is willing to spend the money. Since the CA cities are all facing bankruptcy as the state collapses, it’s not clear that there is time or money to change much.

    When the state collapses you are going to have a lot of young people milling about selling their bodies and involving themselves in gangs. That’s the lesson of history. So don’t be too surprised as it happens here, because the state is collapsing before our eyes.

    And it is not just any children in this situation. it is certain children.

    Brave New World.

  • Chauncey

    Have you guys ever been to Richtown? Those that think that cops will stop evry youth in Richmond do not understand what cops are already expected to do.

    Counseling? Whos is going to pay for that? How will that sustain itself? Who are the counselors and how will they measure their work?

    Sounds ideal-but its all words!

    My approch is this:

    1. If a family is getting any form of state entilements or subsidies- theyr kids cannot be truant or they will lose it.

    2. If a family is attempting to obstain a visa- Better make sure your kids are in school!

    3. Give parents their tax dollars(those that own homes) nad have them pay for school! If they do, I guarantee the truancy rates will drop!

    4. If parent is affluent-have them pay money to cover the lost monies of their kids.

    Just a workingmans approach, but know it willnot happen!

  • Jenna

    What if parent were not arrested but had to attend school with their students – flexible timing of course to accommodate working parents – evenings – weekends and all of it in a school that may or may not be their home school. This would also be a way to earn back the ADA – parents are working at the school while the students are learning. Parents would also have to pay for the district out of pocket expenses for the teachers during these times.

    For those parents in the hills who think that any time can be vacation time, they serve their time cleaning up and painting flat lands schools in the evenings and on the weekends the same as they do for their own schools.

    I also agree – no aid to parents, no green cards, no citizenship, no tax deductions for houses/child care/donations, no housing subsidies, no car registration and no driver’s licenses for those parents who do not get their children to school on-time for 170 or more days a school year.

    I almost never agree with Nextset, but I agree with one thing. I agree that we should pay students $250 for long term birth control (5 years or longer – Norplant, IUD implanted and verified annually) for students who are at high risk for becoming pregnant before age 25 (parents, grandparents, siblings have had children before age 25). By reducing the birthrate to Oakland teens by 50% we can reduce the poverty rate by nearly 80% in one generation (a generation is usually considered 25 – 30 years. Certain areas of Oakland have a generational input of 18 years).

    Imagine how great Oakland could be if we reduced the poverty level by 80% in 20 years? According to the statistics school attendance would rise, test scores would rise, employment would rise, the taxes collected would rise, criminal behavior would decrease, incarceration would decrease, unwanted and abused children would decrease, and our city would have a history of one generation at a time improving the lives of the youngest, most vulnerable in our city – our children.