Attorney General Kamala D. Harris Announces New Tools to Help Parents and Educators Improve Attendance

Thursday, February 18, 2016
Contact: (415) 703-5837, agpressoffice@doj.ca.gov

Toolkit Available Online at oag.ca.gov/truancy/toolkit; Includes New Resources for Parents, Teachers, and Community Leaders to Boost Elementary School Attendance

SAN FRANCISCO – Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today unveiled an online toolkit designed to help local leaders address California’s elementary school truancy crisis. The toolkit, created in collaboration with the Ad Council and with the support of The California Endowment, provides school, community, and government leaders with resources to work with parents on their children’s elementary school absences and the long-term impact that chronic absence and truancy have on academic performance.  Educators can use these tools to engage parents – including via text message – about their child’s attendance and how to reduce absences. 

“Nearly a quarter of a million California elementary school students were chronically absent in the 2014-2015 school year, with sweeping implications for our state’s future,” said Attorney General Harris. “If we want to effectively address this crisis, we need to communicate to parents and teachers about how critical early attendance is to a child’s development. This toolkit will help teachers and community leaders discuss truancy with parents and help them to ensure their children are in class every day.”

The toolkit is the culmination of a statewide study conducted with parents of elementary school students and education experts to understand barriers to attendance and how best to address them. It includes data compiled from interviews in which parents discussed their perceptions of early-grade absences and what messaging would have the greatest impact on them. It also includes tips for school and community leaders on how to communicate the impact of early school absences to parents, as well as a letter that school and district administrators can send to teachers to help them improve communication with parents of students in their classrooms.

The study found that while parents have ambitious long-term dreams for their children, such as college admission, they often do not connect early-grade attendance to later achievement. Combined with barriers to attendance such as lack of transportation or health issues, these misunderstandings can lead to children missing too many days of school and falling behind as early as kindergarten.  The study also found that parents’ most trusted sources of information are teachers, who can best help them understand what is happening in the classroom and what resources are available to help families resolve barriers to attendance.  The study found that texting is most parents’ preferred form of communication with their children’s school.

In September, Attorney General Harris issued her third annual report on elementary school truancy and chronic absenteeism in California, In School + On Track 2015. The report found that California still faces a crisis in elementary school attendance: 230,000 California elementary school students are chronically absent – missing more than 10% of the school year – and more than 1 in 5 are truant, having three or more unexcused absences. Low-income students and students of color face even lower attendance rates.

The report also outlines significant progress made in the past year in increasing awareness of the importance of attendance within school districts, tracking attendance year over year, and rethinking discipline policies that remove students from the classroom. The report is available in its entirety online at: https://oag.ca.gov/truancy/2015.

In 2013, Attorney General Harris issued the first statewide statistics on California’s elementary school truancy crisis and directly linked public education to public safety and the economy. Students who are not reading at grade level by the end of third grade are statistically more likely to drop out of high school. Annually, dropouts cost California taxpayers an estimated $46.4 billion in incarceration, lost productivity and lost taxes.  The 2014 report released updated statewide data.

In February 2015, Attorney General Harris unveiled the Bureau of Children’s Justice, a unit within the California Department of Justice that works to ensure all of California’s children are on track to meet their full potential. The Bureau enforces criminal and civil laws to hold those who prey on children accountable; works with a range of local, state, and national stakeholders to increase support and improve outcomes for vulnerable children; and identifies and pursues improvements to policies impacting children.

Attorney General Harris has worked to combat truancy since she was District Attorney of San Francisco.  In the course of investigating factors contributing to the city’s violent crime rate, she found that 94% of San Francisco homicide victims under age 25 were high school dropouts. Then-District Attorney Harris formed a partnership with the school district to inform parents about their legal duty to ensure that their children attended school, provide parents of chronically truant students with wrap-around services and school-based mediation, and prosecute parents in the most severe cases where other interventions did not work.

In addition to the Ad Council and The California Endowment, organizations that partnered with the Attorney General’s office on the attendance toolkit include the California Department of Education, California Department of Public Health, California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, California Alliance of African American Educators, Association of California School Administrators, California African American Administrators and Superintendents Association, California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators, California County Superintendents Education Services Association, California School Boards Association, California Charter Schools Association, California School Employees Association, California School Nurses Organization, California Association of School Counselors, LA Chamber of Commerce, Bay Area Council, Children Now, Fight Crime, Invest in Kids CA, La Opinion, School-Based Health Alliance, Campaign for Grade Level Reading, Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court Initiative, Partnership for Children and Youth, California Coalition for Youth, Communities in Schools-LA, LA Urban League, Youth Policy Institute, Community Coalition, Foster Ed-California, Parent Institute for Quality Education, Alliance for Children's Rights, Inter-Tribal Council of California, Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, California Family Resource Association, First 5 California, Los Angeles Education Partnership, Parent Advocate League, Children's Defense Fund, National Council of La Raza, and CDE Foundation.

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