Mirador Explains AUHSD Truancy Program

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C. Sitar

Gabe Sloan, a frequent victim of commute traffic, strolls into class late once again.

Cole Sitar, Staff Writer

When Miramonte junior Gabe Sloan commutes to school from El Sobrante every morning, the six tardies he has in his 1st period class are at the front of his mind. “I’m only three away from detention, and the agenda says that I’m six away from going into the SARB program.”

California Education Code defines a tardy as any unexcused absence that lasts less than 30 minutes, and defines a class cut as any longer absence. However, reporting absences is completely up to teachers who take attendance, and most teachers have their own definition of tardy.

On the more lenient end of the spectrum are many PE classes. Because students trickle up from the locker rooms for around 10 minutes at the beginning of each period, tardy students have a lot of wiggle room.  “A lot of people showed up really, really late to PE, and they don’t get tardies,” junior Brendan Afshar said.

Nonetheless, most Miramonte teachers follow a policy close to that of Spanish teacher Carla Unroe. “I usually don’t mark students tardy until around two minutes after the bell. Before that people are moving their backpacks around and pulling out papers, but when people come in any later they disturb the class,”she said.

Although they aren’t involved in the attendance or truancy process after taking roll, many teachers have strong feelings about tardiness and class cutting. “In my experience, the more a student is tardy, the worse their grade is,” Unroe said. “I think that there should be consequences after four tardies.”

Under current Miramonte policies, students only begin to be punished when they reach nine tardies in one class in a semester. At that point they receive one hour of detention. At their 11th tardy or third class cut, and at each subsequent class cut or every other subsequent tardy, students receive two hours of Saturday school, and proceed a step further into the district truancy program.

After 11 tardies or three class cuts, the AUHSD designates a student as a truant, and the AUHSD Student Attendance Review Board, or SARB, comes into effect. The first action  that SARB takes is to send home a letter to inform parents of thier son or daughter’s truancy.  If this doesn’t work, step two is a Student Attendance Review Team, or SART, meeting. In a SART meeting, the offending student, his or her parents, a school counselor, a school administrator, and sometimes one of the student’s teachers discuss the reasons for their truancy, and seek a solution.

When a SART meeting doesn’t end a student’s truancy, the district takes control of the process and organizes a SARB meeting. Students and their parents meet with a board of school administrators, county officials, and representatives from the juvenile courts. During this final step in truancy intervention process, the board can recommend alternative education programs and transfers. In addition, they sometimes threaten the offending student and their parents with criminal charges unless the problem is solved.

As a school administrator, Miramonte Associate Principal Michael McAllister is often involved in the SARB process, and he believes that although legal threats can seem harsh, they are justified. “What you have to remember is that being at school on time is a legal requirement. You have to be at school, and you have to be in class. It’s the law.,” McAllister said.

According to McAllister, there isn’t much of a pattern for types of students who are labelled as truants.“Almost all of these kids are otherwise very good students. Most of the time they just can’t seem to wake up or get to school on time.”

Some such students are already at or close to the first steps in the SARB program a quarter of the way through this school year. “I have nine tardies in my first period class, so I got a detention. I had to wake up at like six to spend the morning after Halloween at school. My parents were also mad about it,” an anonymous junior said.

All in all, both students and administrators agree that the SARB program is quite effective. “Tardies, and also truancy, are things that we can control. It really just comes down to behavior modification, and the SARB does a good job at that. With the SARB, the district exerts a different kind of pressure than the school can, so it motivates truant students to change the way they act,” McAllister said. Sloan, who hasn’t had a tardy in several weeks, agreed,: “If my parents had to go to a meeting with people from juvy, I would definitely never be tardy again.”