Santa Barbara County elementary school students are attending class at much higher rates than their peers across California, according to a report released this week by state Attorney General Kamala Harris. The recent statewide study found that 13.6 percent of K-6 kids in the county were truant — absent or tardy by more than 30 minutes without an excuse three times in a school year — compared to 29.6 percent of truant kids statewide.
Efforts have been made at the district and county levels to help K-12 students stay in class, like increased communication between school staff and parents, after-school meetings, administrator sit-downs, and gatherings of the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB). District Attorney Joyce Dudley restored a truancy program called CLASS last year, which costs less than half of what the previous $500,000 program did and returned 96 percent of the 6,849 K-12 students initially reported as truant back to school during the 2012-2013 year. Deputy District Attorney David Chen, who runs CLASS, said SARBs at the 20 county school districts often resist punitive measures and instead opt to offer resources from area social-services agencies. Of the 226 students who continued to ditch school without a valid excuse, only three cases required court intervention during the program’s pilot year.
The county fares better than most of the rest of the state, which Harris declared is facing an “attendance crisis,” calling recent findings “stark” and “alarming.” Noting the link between early truancy and high school dropout rates and the fact that 82 percent of prisoners nationwide are high school dropouts, she called for several hands-on measures, most of which Santa Barbara’s school districts have already implemented.