Truancy problems plague school district |

Truancy problems plague school district

William Ferchland
Octavio Juarez, right, visited the South Tahoe High School to request an application for the Independent Studies program when he travels to Mexico for a six-week trip. Friend Roberto Aguilar looks on.

Another 48 students at their desks would mean a lot to Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

Besides being educated, the students would provide an additional $240,000 in state money to the district’s parched general fund, which is facing a $1.5 million deficit next year. The numbers are part of a campaign by Interim Superintendent Lorraine Garcy to boost revenue by increasing daily attendance figures.

“The better attendance we have the less reliance we have on trying to pass a parcel tax,” Garcy said. “It’s something the community can control without a cost to them. Just having our kids come to school would eliminate some of our needs.”

On average, 92.6 percent of the district’s students attended school daily over the last six years, Garcy said. The state average is 97 percent during the same period. While Garcy doesn’t expect attendance to reach 100 percent, she is confident the district can improve.

A focus group will meet Friday to brainstorm possible solutions. State and federal recommendations to increase attendance will be reviewed. Making parents aware of the problem, Garcy said, is the main goal of the campaign.

“It’s a whole bunch of things they need (to do) to bring kids to school,” she said.

South Tahoe High School has had an average attendance of 95 percent for the last two years. The first and last months of school enjoy the highest appearances by students, with June, the month of finals, having a 98 percent mark.

Birgit Lukins, the high school’s attendance technician for 11 years, was skeptical of the district matching the state average.

“That’s going to be impossible,” she said.

Different factors contribute to students avoiding school, Lukins said, including South Lake Tahoe’s transiency and long vacations students take during the school year.

Casino employees usually take their vacations during fall, when local tourism drops. Lukins said the attendance office receives requests by students to go on the 15-day independent studies program in an effort to not miss schoolwork. Attendance is then achieved when students return and hand in their homework.

Lukins held a fistful of independent studies applications in her office Monday. She said vacations usually last longer than the 15 days independent studies allows.

Freshman Octavio Juarez visited the attendance office Monday asking to use independent studies so that he would not miss schoolwork while in Acapulco from Dec. 1 to Jan. 12. Juarez didn’t mind missing such a chunk of school but was dismayed when told independent studies does not cover such a long period.

Holly Avila, a junior, missed all last week with a chest cold and flu. She was welcomed with a pile of class work.

“I have so much work to do, my grade went from a ‘B’ to a ‘D,’ ” she said.

Some absences are because of family structure, Lukins said. Some students miss school when they baby-sit siblings or return home knowing their parents are at work. When students are absent for an entire day, an automated phone message is delivered home, notifying parents of truancy.

Those messages can be, and are, erased by students before their parents arrive home, Lukins said. As a result, some parents request the message be sent to their work.

But even students who arrive late at the high school can benefit the district. The problem lies with students who avoid the entire school day, a trait usually ingrained at the elementary level, said Patty Haar, an attendance coordinator in the district.

“It’s huge,” Haar said. “The community needs to be aware that attendance will change the big picture.”

– E-mail William Ferchland at

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