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CUSD steps up efforts to prevent truancy
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As the 2008-09 school year begins, the Ceres Unified School District (CUSD) is continuing its efforts to battle truancy across all grade levels.

"Most parents are unaware that three unexcused absences will classify the student as truant," said Brian Chandler, CUSD Attendance Officer.

Educating parents through school site interventions and meeting with them one-on-one resulted in a 70 percent improvement rate in attendance of the 102 truancy cases Chandler investigated in the 2007-08 school year.

CUSD has made positive steps in reducing the number of truant students in the last two years. According to school officials, high school truancies are down to 8 percent, while the junior high and elementary truancies averaged 26 percent during the 2007-08 school year. More truancy sweeps are planned for the new school year, with the intent to reduce the junior high and elementary rates even further.

"Parents of students who are consistently absent are subject to fines and possible criminal penalties," said Chandler.

When attendance does not improve after the one-on-one meeting with parents, a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) hearing is scheduled, which must be attended by the student and his/her parents. The SARB panel consists of interested parents, community members, community agency employees, and employees of the school district. This panel determines a required level of improved attendance by the student and if the student meets this requirement, no further action is required by the district.

However, if poor attendance continues, criminal charges are filed in the Stanislaus County Superior Court against the parents and/or student. CUSD filed 14 cases in the 2007-08 school year for charges relating to various California Education Code violations. Possible penalties include, but are not limited to, fines, imposition of informal probation, and further criminal charges if poor attendance continues.

Some people view "playing hooky" as a harmless childhood prank, but CUSD disagrees.

"Ceres Police Department data indicates that students that are truant are more likely to become involved in gangs and criminal activity. We have a legal and ethical responsibility to ensure students attend class. We will not let these students slip between the cracks - their future and the health of the community depends on their education."