Parents may influence high truancy rates
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE — Nearly 60 percent of students at South Tahoe High School were reported truant during the 2012-2013 school year, and the habit formed for most of them may be their parents’ responsibility, data and opinions from several agencies suggest.
The more a student misses class, the less likely he or she is to graduate from high school, Karen Tinlin, who handles truancy issues for the Lake Tahoe Unified School District, said.
According to a California Department of Justice report, data suggests that students who repeatedly miss school during elementary and kindergarten school years are more likely to be truant in high school.
During those early school years it is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their son or daughter makes it to school, Tinlin said.
According to a California Department of Education truancy report, nearly 32 percent of students in the Lake Tahoe Unified School District were truant during the 2012-2013 school year. The Department of Education considers a full-time student truant when he or she is absent three full days out of the year without a valid excuse, is absent for more than 30 minutes during a school day without a valid excuse three or more times.
According to the report, nearly 58 percent of Lake Tahoe high school students were reported truant as well as 47 percent of Lake Tahoe middle school students.
At the elementary school level, the truancy rate drops to about 15 percent, but the rate at Bijou Community School was recorded at nearly 32 percent.
Countywide, the rate drops to roughly 20 percent, according to the Department of Education report, but it is still slightly above average compared to the rest of the state.
The report also stated that California school districts lose an estimated $1 billion per year in school funding because of absences.
Most of the absences at the elementary school level could be attributed to a lack of understanding from parents of the importance of attendance during those early school years.
The DOJ report indicates that chronically absent kindergartners perform below their better-attending peers on math and reading skills assessments. Those effects are particularly pronounced as absences increase.
In California, fourth-graders who missed more than three days of class in the month prior to taking national assessments scored more than a full grade level below their peers with no absences during that period.
The report also states that about 83 percent of California kindergartners and first-graders who are chronically absent don’t read proficiently by third-grade. Furthermore, students who don’t read proficiently by third-grade are four times more likely to drop out of school.
Many times parents don’t fully understand how far their child falls behind when he or she misses several days of school, Tinlin said. Absentee impacts may become apparent when a student is late to class for as little as 30 minutes, which causes the student to need to catch up to the lesson plan in progress.
For many parents, other factors such as the priorities of the family’s needs may also come into play when making sure the child makes it to school. Many times financial hardships and transportation limitations could also play a role.
“There are families that are just in survival mode,” Tinlin said.
Furthermore, Tinlin said she thinks many parents also call their children in sick when they are not sick or prioritize trips and vacation time over the student’s educational needs.
When students are raised in an environment where the importance of not missing school is not reinforced, Tinlin said, it is less likely the student will believe it is important to attend school regularly during later years.
“Certain patterns have been established,” she said.
This year, the district is putting forth a stronger effort to reduce truancies and other absences. The effort is being done concurrently with a statewide effort to reduce truancies.
“Everything we can think of, we are doing,” Tinlin said. “This year we are super vigilant.”
Schools in South Lake Tahoe are establishing better communication with parents regarding attendance, are sending informational letters home with students in an attempt to educate parents about the importance of attendance and are offering students incentives for perfect attendance to encourage students to want to go to school.
The district also re-established a school attendance review board, which oversees attendance issues.
At South Tahoe Middle School, where Tinlin spends most of her time, students who accumulate more than three unexcused absences have a letter sent to their parents. After parents have been notified, unexcused absences usually reduce or stop.
With the increased effort, Tinlin said she is optimistic that truancy rates will drastically decrease in the next report.
If the students don’t get to school, they don’t get their credits and they won’t graduate, she said.
“If you go to school, your chances of being a success will be tenfold,” Tinlin said.