School districts throughout Santa Barbara County are in the process of deciding how to take the reins of a new program meant to crack down on truancy.
Some are further along than others, according to Deputy District Attorney David Chen.
Truancy, which refers to a student having more than three unexcused absences, has increased significantly since a countywide program was eliminated in 2008 due to budget cuts, according to a Santa Barbara County Grand Jury report.
The jump was nearly 48 percent.
And that’s where Chen comes in.
He was hired last summer to spearhead a revived version of the program, with a budget about one-fifth the size that was devoted to the former Truancy Intervention and Parent Accountability Program.
“The difficulty here is that there’s more responsibility shifted down to schools now,” Chen told Noozhawk. “They have all these materials; it’s just how to present it.”
Chen has been working with district superintendents to figure out time tables for when to send “warn and concern” letters to parents and set up formal meetings with school administrators based on a student’s number of unexcused absences.
When school-based intervention processes fail and truancy continues, schools are supposed to contact the District Attorney’s Office to participate in meetings of the Truancy Mediation Team or School Attendance Review Board.
Some school districts, such as Lompoc Unified and those in the Santa Ynez Valley, have operated their own systems in the county program’s absence.
Others still need to work out some kinks, Chen said. Those especially include the larger school districts in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara.
Art Diaz, director of pupil services at Lompoc Unified, said the district takes meticulous care of attendance through its Attention2Attendance software, which was implemented in January.
“We actually never stopped,” Diaz said of conducting SARB panels. “That’s the hurdle all other districts will have to address.”
Diaz said the biggest change Lompoc sees with the new program is an added SARB follow-up step, which now includes Chen.
So far, Chen has talked to several students who were referred to him by parents or family members.
Those interventions have mainly been on the South Coast, with a handful in Lompoc.
Chen said school districts have been very receptive to his outreach.
A big part of the job, Chen said, is making people aware that the program is back and will hopefully be around a while.
“I just kind of have to walk them through the steps,” Chen said. “We’re moving forward.”