Pam Mari in her presentation to the board of education, made the argument that the reason that the police got involved in this process is that the district had made a number of attempts to rectify the problem of truancy and those efforts failed. Numbers were cited with regard to lost revenue by the school district in the form of ADA (Average Daily Attendance). One number that floated around was $500,000 was lost at the high school in ADA dollars due to truancy.
However, information that was present in April 11, 2007’s Davis Community Advisory Board (CAB) through the police department, raises serious questions about these claims.
According to the minutes from that meeting, Lt. Darren Pytel, one of the innovators of this program, said:
“At the beginning of the school year Davis High was having problems with their telephone computer. Parents were not notified about attendance issues and the students figured it out. Around November, December the district informed parents of the problem and let when know what outstanding absences were not dealt with.”
As the result of this computer glitch, up to 200 kids had missed five or more full school days.
My reading of this situation is that a one-time computer problem made it difficult for parents to be notified about attendance problems. The students figured out there was a problem with the computer (the administration did not) and that they would not be caught and therefore took full advantage.
If that is what happened, there was a known cause from a known problem. That would differ from an ongoing problem of truancy. If this interpretation is correct, do we really need to change the way that we are enforcing truancies? Do we really need a radical approach? Shouldn’t this issue have been assessed by the policy making policy (i.e. the school board) prior to changes in procedure?
The basic question here is was this a one-time problem as the result of the computer glitch–which was not mentioned at the school board meeting–or is this an ongoing problem? And why did the administration not cite statistics for the board to put numbers on this?
What happened next was largely a result of the truancies caused by this computer glitch. The claim in the school board meeting on Thursday was that the truancy sweep would only involve getting the 15-20 worst offenders into school.
This is not what happened last spring.
“When officers saw school aged kids, they were to ask, “Where are you supposed to be right now?” Then they would verify with School Officer Mark Hicks, who has a police radio and can tell from the school computer if the student should be in school. If so, the officer would give them a ride back to the school” (CAB Meeting minutes April 11, 2007).
This does not sound like an action limited to a few students who are the worst offenders, it sounds like a blanket sweep of the community.
The other problem at this point is that the police have really conflated the issue of truancy with the issue of students driving accompanied by friends in the vehicle–which they are not supposed to do if they have had their license for less than a year. Previously, police did not stop students solely for the purpose of checking whether their friends should be in the car.
That policy has now changed and the police are cracking down on this. They are specifically pulling over cars with young drivers and looking to see if their should be able to drive with friends. That has been a focused effort on the part of the police. That of course leads me to the question and I understand the law, but is there a compelling reason that the police need to expend a large amount of manpower to enforce this law, other than it is the law?
Reading the notes from the CAB meeting which occurred back in April and was actually referenced in March, leads people to a further question–why is it that the school board was not made aware of the changes in policy? This meeting by the way, was one of the first attended by new police chief Landy Black.
However, these discussion appear now to go back six months. How is it that all of these changes in procedure could occur without school board input?
Of all of my concerns about this policy, that is the biggest. The school board is elected to represent the interests of the public on the school board. They are accountable to the public. If they fail to do their job, they can be voted out of office by the public or even recalled under extreme circumstances of dereliction of duty. Administrators are not accountable to the public directly however. They do not have to face the voters. The administration works for the Superintendent and the Superintendent is hired by the school board.
The argument made by Pam Mari is that this is authorized by the California Education Code and therefore they did not need board consent to change their procedure for dealing with truancy.
School Board Member Tim Taylor nailed it on the response:
“One of the things we are struggling with is that regardless of whether the law allows certain things to be done, if they haven’t been done, we have two choices, we can hit the ground at 100 miles per hour or we can have a discussion with ourselves and the community and the public and discuss what are we going to do and I think what you’re hearing and certainly what I’m feeling certainly is that the 100 mile an hour approach while perhaps legal may not be the best fit. Because people are gong to feel like they are getting run over. That will cause community pullback… instead of buy-in, which I think we need, that will have the opposite effect.”
However, the other question is whether or not this is even allowed by the law and authorized through ed code.
My reading of the education code does not suggest that it “authorizes” this kind of approach. It does not appear to prohibit this kind of approach necessarily. But it does not automatically authorize it.
What it does specify are definitions for truancy and recourse that the district can take for habitual truants. According to the education code, no pupil can be classified as habitually truant without an effort to have a conference with the parent.
“Any pupil is deemed an habitual truant who has been reported as a truant three or more times per school year, provided that no pupil shall be deemed an habitual truant unless an appropriate district officer or employee has made a conscientious effort to hold at least one conference with a parent or guardian of the pupil and the pupil himself” (EC Section 48262).
The prescribed penalty for habitual truancy:
“(c) The third time a truancy report is required within the same school year, the pupil shall be classified a habitual truant, as defined in Section 48262, and may be referred to and required to attend, an attendance review board or a truancy mediation program pursuant to Section 48263 or pursuant to Section 601.3 of the Welfare and Institutions Code. If the district does not have a truancy mediation program, the pupil may be required to attend a comparable program deemed acceptable by the school district’s attendance supervisor. If the pupil does not successfully complete the truancy mediation program or other similar program, the pupil shall be subject to subdivision (d).” (EC Section 48264.5 Subdivision C).
The penalty phase according to the education code appears after the fourth truancy. Penalties at that point include community service, fine of no more than $100, attendance in a court-approved truancy prevention program, and only then suspension or revocation of driving privileges.
So to repeat, after reading through education code, one could probably argue that school policy is not prohibited by the code unless they are attempted to revoke driving privileges earlier than allowed. However, it is not clear that ed code authorizes this approach or that this approach could be undertaken without board approval. I am not familiar enough with the law here to be able to assess what control a school board has in implementing education code policies.
Regardless, it would have been helpful for the administrator in presenting this program to have a written citation of the relevant sections of education code for the school board to see in advance and help them in understanding the new policy and how it fits in with the requirements from the state.
Many questions still need to be answered. Some of these questions include what is actually going on, what this policy will actually do. Other questions include who knew what and when and why was neither the board of education nor the city council aware of these activities by the school district and law enforcement. Answers to those will hopefully occur at the next City-School District two-by-two meeting and a subsequent school board meeting.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting