School District to Establish New Attendance Board

Berkeley Unified's Board Of Education Approves New Panel to Evaluate Cases of Student Truancy

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Students who frequently skip their classes in the Berkeley Unified School District in the next school year will have to appear before a new panel specifically created to abate district truancy rates by addressing repeated offenders on a case-by-case basis.

The district's Board of Education members voted at a meeting Wednesday to establish a district-wide School Attendance Review Board that, starting this fall, will assess cases of students with recurring unexcused absences. According to a monthly school enrollment report, the district's average daily attendance in December was 8,798 - 802 students short of the district's 9,600 total enrollment.

The new review board will function less as a disciplinary body than as a forum for parents or guardians - along with district officials - to help identify the reasons why a student may be missing school.

"Often times when a student is truant, there is some underlying reason that is on some level legitimate," district Director of Student Services Susan Craig said at the meeting. "That's what usually comes out in the SARB hearing."

According to Craig, personnel from a district school health center and mental health professionals will be available at the hearings if factors regarding a student's wellness are contributing to his or her deficient attendance. The board will also broach issues of safety such as bullying or harassment and work with school officials to resolve those problems.

"At the elementary level, the focus is more on holding the parent responsible," Craig said. "At the high school level, the focus is more on holding the student responsible. For middle school, it really depends. It could go either direction."

A student will appear before the review board only after multiple instances of intervention fail to prevent additional truancy on his or her attendance record. Craig said a student will meet with the School Attendance Review Board after three truancy letters are sent home by the school and after attending two school-level truancy meetings.

Under state law, a school must send the first truancy letter to students in grades kindergarten through 12 after three unexcused absences.

If a student continues to be truant after coming before the review board, the student's case will be referred to the Alameda County District Attorney's office for legal consideration.

The impetus for the district to maintain good attendance at its schools is both academic and economic. In addition to the adverse effects that frequent absence from school has on a student's education, state funds received by the district are in part dependent on the average daily attendance recorded at schools each day. Last year, the district lost $29.66 in unearned revenue each time a student was recorded absent.

School board Director Karen Hemphill requested at the meeting that further discussion on truancy take place sooner rather than later. The board will address the issue again - along with other attendance and truancy policies and programs to be implemented for the 2010-11 school year - at a meeting in March.

"Attendance and truancy is one of the items that the entire (school board) unanimously says is an important priority to focus on," she said at the meeting. "It's also very much a part of our equity work that we're trying to do, our 2020 Vision work. If you're not in school, you're not going to learn."


Jeffrey Butterfield is the lead local schools reporter. Contact him at [email protected]

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