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Report: Truancy a ‘chronic’ issue for Lodi Unified School District, California

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris

“The findings are stark. We are failing our children.”

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

“When children in kindergarten through sixth grade miss school, they fall behind and too many never catch up. The consequences for California’s economy and public safety are very serious.”

Posted: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 12:00 am

More than 34 percent of Lodi Unified School District’s elementary-age students are truant each year, adding to both academic and financial concerns for the school district, experts claim.

The figures released earlier this year are in line with a statewide report released Monday, in which California Attorney General Kamala Harris said the state is facing an attendance crisis, with truancy and chronic absence rates at an all-time high. Truancy is defined as an unexcused absence or tardy greater than 30 minutes on three separate occasions during the school year.

According to the California Department of Education, 1 out of every 5 elementary school students were reported to be truant in the 2011-2012 school year.

In Lodi Unified, the rate is higher.

In fact, the 1-in-3 truancy rate for Lodi elementary students is higher than both the county and state averages for all students, at 28.5 percent for each level. The district’s overall rate is 31.6 percent.

Given the state statistics, Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement officials, parents, educators, nonprofit groups, public agencies and concerned community members can do about this problem.

“The findings are stark. We are failing our children,” Harris wrote in the report’s executive summary.

Truancy, especially among elementary school students, has long-term negative effects. Students who frequently miss school at an early age are more likely to struggle academically and, in later years, to drop out entirely, according to Harris.

One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7 percent.

“Lacking an education, these children are more likely to end up unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders,” Harris said in a written statement.

Attendance, too, is directly connected to the amount of state and federal money school districts receive. In fact, districts like Lodi Unified that receive government funding based on student attendance lose $1.4 billion per year to truancy, the report estimated.

In Lodi Unified, the elementary schools with the highest truancy rates in the 2011-12 school year were Creekside (55 percent) and Oakwood (53.9 percent), both located in Stockton. The lowest was Elkhorn (3.9 percent).

Meanwhile, in Stockton Unified, where the district’s overall truancy rate is 43.7 percent, administrators have toughened up their policy.

And, countywide, parents can face fines up to $2,000 from the District Attorney’s Office and even jail time for excessive unexcused student absences.

Still, truancy among all students countywide has edged down; the 2010-11 rate was 30 percent, according to the University of the Pacific who is also studying the issue of truancy.

Lodi Unified might look toward Galt Elementary School District’s example for ideas on improving attendance rates. That district has a truancy rate of just 3 percent.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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