City and school officials have pursued numerous approaches to encourage students and parents to curb truancy, but some leaders say San Francisco needs to do more to just pick loitering minors up off the streets and return them to school.
Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi is pushing the San Francisco Unified School District, police and other agencies to step up enforcement of truancy laws, he told The Examiner on Monday.
At the same time, the Office of Criminal Justice is weighing a daytime curfew as one possible tool for keeping kids in the classroom, according to the office’s Maya Dillard-Smith.
“We need to get back to basics, and either have a trained protocol with the Police Department or another branch of government that can encounter truants and their parents and then have a facility where they’re able to admit them,” Mirkarimi said.
Police do pick up truant students and take them back to class or to The City’s lone truancy center, housed at the Bayview YMCA, according to police spokesman Neville Gittens.
However, Keith Choy, director of the school district’s truancy program, said police don’t get involved that often.
“What I hear from police is, ‘I should save my uniform for more substantive crimes,’ or ‘We don’t have a place to take them,’” Choy said.
Across the district, Choy has a staff of 65 attendance counselors — and one of their jobs is knocking on parents’ doors when kids start missing school. “I wish there were more,” he said.
The number of students who missed 10 or more days of school has held steady for the past three years, though it increased slightly to 5,449 in 2007-08, the same year District Attorney Kamala Harris began prosecuting parents of the worst offenders.
Six parents were given court-mandated instructions to keep their children in school and to get support for the problems contributing to truancy — or face increased penalties, including a $2,500 fine or up to a year in jail. So far, five of the six families are complying, according to district attorney spokeswoman Erica Terry Derryck.
Over the past four years, 94 percent of the city’s homicide victims under 25 were high school dropouts, according to Harris, who launched a $20,000 anti-truancy ad campaign Monday.
In addition, when students don’t attend school, the district loses money. District officials estimate it has lost $10 million in state attendance revenue because of truancy.
Other cities across the nation have daytime curfews in place to curb truancy. Students in San Mateo County who are truant multiple times can be fined up to $100 and lose driving privileges under the county’s curfew ordinance.
Mirkarimi said Harris’ prosecution efforts and the school district’s intervention programs aren’t enough without a citywide strategy and system of accountability.
Not everyone agrees that truants need more police intervention.
“Truancy should not be thought of as a criminal- or juvenile-justice issue,” said N’Tanya Lee, executive director of Coleman Advocates for Youth. “Our schools lack support. They’re stretched, and kids are falling through the cracks.”
Truancy rates 2006-07
Defined as students with three or more unexcused absences, San Francisco’s truancy rates are among the highest in the Bay Area
Oakland: 23,562 (49.76%)
Marin County: 4,284 (15.02%)
San Jose: 6,501 (21.05%)
San Francisco Unified School District: 15,149 (27.47%)
San Mateo County: 18,802 (21.42%)
Source: California Department of Education