School districts across Santa Barbara County are implementing a new truancy program, and Deputy District Attorney David Chen said School Attendance Review Board hearings will resume this month as one of the measures.
Referrals to the attendance review board are made when all other intervention steps for unexcused absences — like notification letters, after-school meetings for students and parents, and truancy mediation team meetings — have failed. The interventions are meant to avoid having students enter the juvenile criminal justice system.
Officials agreed that another program was needed, but instead of one countywide program overseen by the District Attorney’s Office, each school district is creating its own similar program with help from the DA’s Office and other county agencies.
To establish local attendance review boards, bylaws must be developed, and school districts have been reviewing them all over the county.
On Tuesday, Santa Barbara Unified School District trustees approved bylaws amid some concerns.
Board of Education member Kate Parker said the rules were vague, and may need some refining as the process moves forward. Trustees Monique Límon and Pedro Paz were concerned that the attendance review board hear from parents and not just enforcement agencies.
School attendance review board members can include representatives from the District Attorney’s Office; the county Probation, Public Health and Social Services departments; law enforcement agencies; school guidance personnel; community-based youth organizations; the County Superintendent of Schools; school districts; juvenile justice/delinquency prevention commissions; and parents. The idea is to have one member from each group serve on the board, Santa Barbara school district pupil services director Marlin Sumpter said.
“The intent of the local SARB is to provide intensive guidance and coordinated community services to meet the needs of pupils with school attendance problems as an attempt to avoid referral to the judicial system,” the bylaws state.
Goals include the “diversion of pupils with serious attendance and behavior problems from the juvenile justice system by utilization of varied community counseling and guidance services,” and the “prevention of serious pupil problems by referral of pupils who are in danger of becoming truant, irregular in attendance, or disorderly to the appropriate counseling, guidance services and or educational services.”
School attendance review board hearings will be conducted regularly and in accordance with the state Brown Act open-meetings law, according to the bylaws.