Prosecuting parents of truant kids could begin this month

As San Francisco’s public schools celebrated some success with bringing truant students back to school, District Attorney Kamala Harris said she’s ready to start prosecuting the parents of chronically absent children.

Harris pledged last October to punish those whose kids repeatedly skip school. No cases have yet come to trial, but Keith Choy, director of the district’s “Stay in School” program, said he’s been told that the District Attorney’s Office would start prosecuting cases this month.

“It’s possible,” Harris said, at an event Wednesday honoring 50 former truants.

“Statistics show that truants and drop-outs are about three times more likely to be arrested during their lifetime,” Harris said.

Among The City’s homicide victims under age 25, 94 percent were high-school dropouts, according to Harris.

Additionally, when students stop attending school, the chances they’ll engage in delinquent or criminal activity increase, according to William Siffermann, chief of the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department.

Asked about prosecuting parents for school truancy Wednesday, Mayor Gavin Newsom said it needed to be done “only when appropriate” and on a “case-by-case basis.”

When the Stay in School initiative began in the San Francisco Unified School District in 2004, they started with nine liaisons in 15 school sites. Now there are liaisons in 45 schools, and every school tracks absences and works with parents to get students back in class, according to spokeswoman Gentle Blythe.

After an increase in unexcused absences between 2005-06 and 2006-07, the trend appears to be reversing, according to Keith Choy, director of the Stay in School initiative.

In addition to celebrating reformed truants and their families Wednesday, SFUSD also applauded Sanchez, Cobb, Excelsior, Roosevelt, Mission and Burton for significantly reducing absenteeism over the past two years through better tracking and interventions, Blythe said.

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

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