Reviving a countywide truancy program has been a worthwhile effort if preliminary numbers are any indication.

The revamped program to combat truancy was put back into Santa Barbara County schools last school year after a four-year hiatus.

Deputy District Attorney David Chen, who’s led the effort, told Noozhawk last week that the program and its positive interventions have worked to lower the number of students criminally prosecuted for chronic absences to zero. A student is considered truant if he or she has more than three unexcused absences.

“I think that’s a good number,” Chen said of zero.

That’s welcome news for the Board of Supervisors, which last year authorized the funds to bring back a countywide program after seeing a significant increase in truancy since a similar program was eliminated in 2008.

In the revived version of the program, which has a budget about one-fifth the size of the previous program, schools send out letters after a certain number of 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 the School Attendance Review Board.

Of the more than 2,700 students who received letters, 226 made it to the SARB level, Chen said.

Thirty-eight students were referred to probation to participate in Teen Court or other community service activities, and just three were referred to the District Attorney’s Office for formal prosecution.

The threat of legal action, however, scared all three back to probation, Chen said.

He credits county agency partnerships and willing schools with allowing the program to meet its goal of decriminalizing truancy.

“So, it works,” Chen said. “We have the existing resources. We just have to pull it all together. It’s a friendly reminder.”

Seven of the 25 parents who were referred to the District Attorney’s Office for their role in truancy have already completed the required education classes to dismiss their cases, Chen said. Eighteen cases are still active, and no fines have been handed down, he added.

Final numbers are expected later this summer.

District Attorney Joyce Dudley touted the program’s efforts, especially the intelligence and passion of its most dedicated workers.

“I am intensely proud of the work David and Corina (Trevina) have done,” Dudley said. “They hit the ground running, and they ran all over the county!”

After a successful first year, Chen said he plans to refine the truancy process this summer. He hopes to set up future SARB trainings at schools and focus on early intervention.

“We’ve got the partners there,” he said.

Chen said he’s looking forward to forging more service partnerships so the program can continue fostering communication between students, parents and schools.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.