Crackdown targets truancy at ground level

Mayor Gavin Newsom will start asking local merchants to rat on kids who are seen around town during school hours as part of his aggressive plan to curb class cutting.

His first stop today: The Inner Mission, a hot spot for truant students, with many enrolled in neighborhood schools, including Mission and John O’Connell high schools, saidHydra Mendoza, the mayor’s education adviser.

“It’s like back in the ’70s when everyone was watching, when parents knew every child down the block,” said Mendoza, who also sits on the Board of Education. “We are going back to that concept where we want the community to be responsible for the kids.”

No business will be forced to participate, but the mayor will have anti-truancy posters on hand today as he goes business to business,
asking merchants to place them in their windows.

That won’t be problematic for Erick Arguello, whose family owns a catering business in the Inner Mission district.

“We see clusters of kids on stairs around the neighborhoods, or going to the local liquor store, or walking the area during school hours,” said Arguello, who’s also president of the Lower 24th Street Merchants and Neighborhood Association. “A lot of those kids aren’t really criminals, they are just not in school for whatever reason.”

The truancy rate hovered at 10 percent last school year. School and city officials have set a goal to cut that figure by 20 percent this school year, which started Aug. 16.

The mayor plans to eventually make stops in other areas where truant kids are known to gather, including the Western Addition, the Third Street corridor and the Lower Fillmore neighborhood.

It’s The City’s latest effort to cut truancy. This summer, the mayor and District Attorney Kamala Harris made personal phone calls, knocked on doors and wrote letters to parents whose kids are habitually truant.

In some instances, legal action has been taken against parents and students. During the summer, the District Attorney’s Office — for the first time — took to court 16 students who had been chronically truant during the spring semester.

“The types of challenges that our families and youth face are multifaceted and no one agency can solve this alone,” San Francisco Unified School District Superintendant Carlos Garcia said. “We’re glad that the mayor brings visibility to this issue and hope that this sends a strong message to our students and their parents.”

Playing hooky

Kids skipping school has been a contentious issue for the SFUSD.

56,000 Students in city schools in 2008-09 school year
3,000 Students considered habitually truant in 2008-09
6,000 Students considered chronically truant in 2008-09
10-19 Absences to be considered habitually truant
20-plus Absences to be considered chronically truant
30 Parents cited for truancy by the District Attorney’s Office in the past three years
16 Kids cited for truancy this year

esherbert@sfexaminer.com

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