Prosecution of High School Truants

Zaquex's picture

It has come to my attention that DA Kamala Harris would prosecute students whose frequent absences put them at risk of dropping out. This policy has already coming into full swing even though it has just begun. This policy merely revises the current policy of prosecuting parents of elementary and middle school truants, which has boosted attendance by 33%. As it stands, parents are put in jail for a year or fined $2,000. High school truants would have to do community service and be charged with a fine.

Do you think the attendance rating boost is as good as Harris claims? Or if the program should be more focused on helping the students instead of charging them with a fine?

TA's picture

need to be thoughtful

What's the purpose of imposing a punitive penalty for students that are not inspired by our schools or the art of learning?  What is imposing the fine going to promote other than another burden on the parents or student?  In America, we believe everything can be rectified by punishement.  I would be interested in real data, not data that supports some agenda.  Where are those facts and are the student learning or just sitting thru class with poor performance? We need more than just attendance, we need incentive based learning.

cpc's picture

Are you suggesting that it's

Are you suggesting that it's ok for kids to skip school or that their parents don't have a responsibility?  I learned while I was fighting for custody of my foster son that he'd been late or missed 19 days of school within the first two months of first grade.  I asked his teacher and the principal to report this to the school district's truant office but they were afraid of his drug addict mother and refused to do anything.  I asked his social worker to report it to the truant office but he couldn't be bothered either.  In the meantime, this child fell even farther behind his classmates and finished first grade a full grade behind where his peers were.  Surely, someone needs to be held responsible.  Incidentally, his mother ended up pulling him out of public school and putting him in private school so that she wouldn't be subject to truancy issues.

I like your idea of incentive based learning but you didn't include an actual suggestion, just a vague concept.  What exactly do you mean by incentive based learning?  If the teachers are just lazy or bad, I don't think it's fair to hold students responsible.  Unfortunately, the teachers unions don't allow bad teachers to be dismissed.  The ones with the least tenure (probably the ones who have learned the newest education theories) are the ones who are let go first whenever layoffs are necessary.  I think teachers need to be held directly responsible when their students  are not meeting required goals.  Exceptions can be made for teachers at the most challenging schools and more resources need to be directed to help those schools improve.  If that's not an option, then we need to over-ride the teacher's union objections and push for vouchers.

DonRoss's picture

6,000 Chronically Truant in SF

San Francisco has one of the highest rates of truancy in the state: 6,000 chronically truant (20 or more absences). It is a sad reality that we are truly a "Tale of Two Cities" -some of the highest performing students and some of the lowest. There is a strong correlation between dropping out of school and incarceration.

Instead of prosecuting students, we should be putting more resources towards keeping these students in school. One of the reasons that students drop out is because of gangs, drugs, broken homes, and a curriculum that is not relevant to them. Many of the students are monolingual as well.

We need to bring back a more trades-based curriculum to the schools to make the learning environment more relevant to everyone.

Lucy in the sky's picture


I appreciate what your saying Don Ross.  It's important to have a college track curriculum but equally as important should be the trade track.  Years ago it seems all school systems had trades in school they included auto mechanics, wood shop, and printing.  I'm old enough to have taken wood shop and bringing home a handmade mirror it was a great last day of class, but I knew then that carpentry was not really for me.  Today parents as well as children are saddled with the idea that college is the only way to go, but it's not.  Lets make sure that schools provide options to our young people this includes bringing back music, drama, and dance all options that keep youth interested in coming to school every day.  Incarcerating their parents, and fining them will only leave the kids home alone and struggling parents already saddled with bills having to contend with yet another bill.  There are better solutions out there let's think out of the box.







friscodog's picture

prosecuting the parents

Seems like prosecuting the parents of truants makes the problem worse.   Truants often come from troubled family histories, where parents are not engaged enough in raising their children in the first place.  Criminalizing truancy could also disproportionately affect working-class families or families with different cultural/racial backgrounds...

I'd like to see more stats on this than provided in the article.

TA's picture


In my post I would never advocate truancy or losing a child's ability to acquire an education.  Punishment does not solve inherent social problems. It never has and it targets those who are already struggling or disadvantaged. More importantly, we only have to look at our penile system to see the overcrowding and see how much punishment has to offer us. If a parent does not care enough to make sure their child gets to school, as in the case of your foster child, than what is imposing jail time or a fine that they can't afford really accomplish. It creates a circular reasoning that in the end accomplishes nothing. Furthermore, we can't legislate good parenting with any reliable positive outcome. Does that mean it's okay or we should not care? Absolutely not.  But as the original post solicited, punishment is not the way to go.

Being a parent, I will say it's hard to imagine not doing everything possible, but I come from a privileged background.  I had two hard working parents, my Mom was able to stay home for my early years.  They were completely focused on my brother and myself.  In turn, with my two children, I am like that as well.  But I am sure if I had parents who were consumed with paying the rent, if we would have food, if they would ever make enough to keep their household - things might have been very different.

You raise a very good point that many of us think about and needs some resolution.  If our teachers are not inspiring our youth and our youth as a whole can not meet minimum requirements (minimum I use loosely here because the goal should be the best that student can be) then we are failing them with the public school system.  I find that no one is being held accountable and the strain is being carried on the backs of too few. 

Incentive based learning is simple. You could implement it as a reward for passing exams, attendance or special merit based on performance and improvement.  In some states, students can earn fees paid for little league sports, $100 cash to use for a prom dress, food, gift card, iPods, tickets to prom, working with local business for the hot new shoes etc.  This is for kids who would not be able nor their families be able to afford these activities.  Incentive based learning mirrors incentive based parenting. You earn privileges based on performance. 

And there are counter arguments.  We are providing tangible material rewards for basic expectations of a student or students. And given different demographics, this is would be an issue, but most of the truancy issues are kids with a common denomenator. And I would counter that argument that all of us in the working world earn our material rewards thru our employment, whether it's a house, a car, a new pair of shoes etc.  My suggestion would be to establish a group of civic minded adults who want to research what incentives would work in our community in San Francisco.

This issue is very complex. It's not just social issues as you mentioned, but also issues of our teachers, school system as a whole.  But if you want a child to learn, who might otherwise be left behind, I might entertain a flushed out incentive program. 

CJC's picture

Friscodog is absolutely

Friscodog is absolutely right. While it is important that all kids get a good education, fining or imprisoning parents is a thoughtless and regressive measure. As pointed out, there is a strong correlation between truancy and low income and single parent families. While these parents still have to be held responsible, criminalizing them will not help the child, which is of coarse the point. It will only put more pressure and strain on the family which will ultimately hurt the child. 

Instead we must offer resources to help struggling parents and therefore tackle the root of the problem rather than just putting a sticking plaster on the issue. For those of you who will argue that this is rewarding parents who can't deal with their children - get a grip. This is about creating a stable platform that allows children to reach a level of equality of opportunity that is currently absent and criminalizing parents will certainly not achieve. 

idapetitt's picture

I agree that truancy and punishment doesn't completely help

There are people who don't have money for a car or even the bus. Children who don't have babysitters or even have a normal home or a family. There are children who also get sick like my child. He has allergies and asthma so he gets sick a lot and I called every single time he was sick and had to take time off of work and/or school at the same time. Now Children's Council and Woo Yee that supports working mothers is cut out of the budget. San Francisco use to have a lot of resources. Now the the government officials mis manage our city money and taxes or they just pocket it for themselves. They hire hookers and do drugs. They fool around on their wives. The DPT & SFMTA now handle our parking tickets and lose my payments and they deny it so they allow me to wonder where did my check go to? While one ticket is cleared and another is covered by a check that was never cashed? So who is the government to wear nice suits and eat crab and lobster while my husband wears jeans with holes and comes home with sore feet and exhaustion in his eyes and a worn out body and no time for his family and starve himself at lunch time so that he can make the mortgage and have DMV double bill his auto registration and his one ticket that I paid with my one ticket? We rush to get to the meter. I am on disability and I still get tickets and my husband still get tickets because we FORGET to display my plate? Guess what, forgetfullness is a big part of my disability? So how do I survive?

The government suckers the people out of their money, it is a lie that there is a government shortage, every year, they say so. To punish children for having no resource to get to school due to emotional problems is not helpful for children who are sick, have grandparents who should be sleeping during retirement and getting their rest and maintaining their health, yes, no excuses for missing school. How about stop laying off all the teachers who have been helping the kids to be motivated? I know only one teacher who is not even a full fledged teacher who kept the enthusiasm in all the years I attended school or that my children attended school. Where are the rewards? Not even any scholarships or tuitions give any children hope. They are losing hope right now because the government is like the devil.


I understand you want the children to be trained to show up at work everyday so that at school, you are being trained but putting parents in jail is not the answer and making poor people pay is not the answer.

It is overkill and it makes people want to leave San Francisco. I have friends who steer clear of living in San Francisco, and that is sad.



catherinejanem's picture


This is the most ridiculous idea ever to attach itself to education.  There are numerous reasons why children skip school, I'd bet more often than not their home or personal lives are suffering difficulties.  It's uneducated to say it's just because they don't care about school.  We should be helping these children, not prosecuting them!  How is prosecution going to help their future?

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