Truancy Mediation Program
The goal of the Sonoma County Truancy Mediation Program is to reduce the number of truancies in the county by promoting cooperation among agencies, improving resources to support schools in meeting the needs of students and families, holding parents and students responsible for regular school attendance, and educating the community on the issue of truancy and its cost to children and society.
Background and Need for the Program
Compulsory education requires that young people attend school, but every day in Sonoma County a significant number of students choose “to play hooky.” While the term “playing” connotes a harmless game, truancy is illegal and its effects in the county are far-reaching. Truancy affects not only the student, but also the school and ultimately the community. Irregular attendance for individual students means that they fail to learn what is needed to compete in the employment market. Schools suffer the loss of state and federal funding. Society pays in monetary terms through escalated daytime burglaries and other crimes, costs to businesses for re-education and retraining, and costs of incarceration for those truants who also turn to patterns of delinquency and crime. The loss of self-esteem and waste of underdeveloped potential are beyond price.
In 1996, school attendance was identified as one of the most important issues facing education in Sonoma County. It was determined that efforts to prevent truancy must be the collaborative responsibility of educators, law enforcement, parents, and community members. The Sonoma County Office of Education, local school districts, and the Sonoma County District Attorney partnered to initiate a variety of approaches to improve school attendance in Sonoma County, both rehabilitative and punitive.
Comprehensive Efforts to Improve School Attendance
Schools and community partners employ strategies to improve school attendance at three stages: prevention, early intervention, and legal intervention.
Schools work hard to create a supportive school culture and climate that provides all students with academic challenge and success. They employ prevention strategies designed to help students bond to school – to make school a place they want to be, even if other parts of their lives are stressful. These strategies include:
- Attendance policies
- Parental involvement (e.g., parents on campus, parent education, parent-teacher associations)
- Extended learning opportunities
- Rewards, incentives, and recognition
- Safe school, safe passage, and positive school climate programs
- Integrated school-linked health and social services
- Comprehensive school health programs
Despite good prevention programs, some students continue to miss school. Before the problem escalates, schools implement intervention programs to provide educational options offering the best learning environment for students who are at risk of being truant. They employ strategies designed to provide support services to at-risk students and their families to help students achieve academic success, such as:
- Student study/student success teams
- Parental involvement (e.g., outreach, home visits)
- Peer helping, counseling, and conflict management
- Alternative educational options
- Campus-based school resource officers and probation officers
- Parent notification of student truancy and compulsory education laws
- School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs)
These tools are used when prevention and intervention programs have not worked. They are designed to reinforce the mandatory attendance laws, as well as to help habitual truants find academic and social success. Strategies include:
- Alternative educational placements
- Rescinding or refusing to issue work permits
- Financial sanctions for CalWORKS families
- Suspension of driving privileges
- Violation of probation
- District attorney mediation
- Juvenile court adjudication
School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs)
A key element of the Truancy Mediation Program is the utilization of School Attendance Review Boards (SARBs). SARBs were created by state law to coordinate school, community, and home efforts to deal with attendance and behavior problems of students. SARBs were designed to maximize the use of all available resources and services, avoid unnecessary duplication of resources, and divert students with school-related problems from the juvenile justice system.
Local school districts are served by eight local SARBs operating in Sonoma County. Local SARBs are composed of school representatives, parents, and community agencies, including law enforcement, welfare, probation, mental health, and youth serving agencies. Members meet regularly to combine their expertise and resources on behalf of the students referred to them. They work with the students and their parents or guardians to diagnose and recommend solutions or resources to alleviate circumstances that are contributing to specific attendance or behavior problems. An agreement among the student, parent or guardian, school, and SARB is developed and SARB continues to monitor the student’s progress.
SARB is part of a process to enforce California’s compulsory education law. The goal of SARB is to keep students in school and provide them a meaningful educational experience. However, if SARB is unsuccessful in changing a student’s behavior, it has the power to refer the case to the Probation Department or the District Attorney for further action, including criminal prosecution.
Another key element of the Truancy Mediation Program is the referral of problematic attendance cases to the District Attorney by local SARBs whose resources and efforts have not been successful in resolving such problems. In order to facilitate this process, as well as coordinate countywide efforts to address truancy and divert students from the juvenile justice system, the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE) established the Sonoma County School Attendance Review Board.
County SARB is coordinated by SCOE and is composed of parent and school representatives, law enforcement, the Office of the District Attorney, the Human Services Department, the Probation Department, the Department of Health Services, and youth-serving community agencies. County SARB meets quarterly to: promote interagency and community cooperation and communication in addressing serious attendance problems; identify resources and services to address attendance or behavior problems of students; recommend policies and strategies for truancy prevention, intervention, and mediation/prosecution; promote public education regarding truancy; develop informational brochures, handbooks, and forms to assist local SARBs; and establish policies, criteria, forms and procedures for local SARB referral of problematic cases to the District Attorney.
District Attorney Mediation
The Sonoma County District Attorney plays an integral role in truancy reduction, supporting the efforts of districts and local SARBs at two stages: early intervention and legal intervention.
Upon receipt of copies of truancy notices sent to parents from the local schools, the District Attorney’s office generates a letter to those parents informing them of their legal responsibility to compel their student’s attendance and warning them of possible court action against them and/or their student. A copy of the letter is sent to the Probation Department if the student is on probation. A case file is established for each student and attendance monitored. The District Attorney assigns staff to serve as a member of County SARB.
If a local SARB determines that its resources are not adequate to resolve the attendance problem with the student or parents or if the student and/or parent fail to respond to its directions or resources, SARB has the option of referring the case to the District Attorney.
After assessing the attendance problem, the Deputy District Attorney has several options: referral of the matter back to the school and/or local SARB for further intervention, referral of the matter to another agency, informal probation, parent prosecution, student adjudication as a ward of the court, and filing violation of probation (VOP) petitions on students already under jurisdiction of the court.
Joint SARB/District Attorney Truancy Procedures
County SARB and the District Attorney have outlined recommended steps in the truancy notification and SARB referral process. A set of model letters and forms to assist the process have also been developed.
Probation Department Intervention
The Juvenile division of the Probation Department also plays an active role in truancy reduction, supporting the schools, local SARBs and the District Attorney at two stages: early intervention and legal intervention.
Probation officers participate in local SARB hearings as requested, offering expertise and assisting in accessing information about truant students who are on probation. The Probation Department assigns officers to high school campuses throughout the county. These officers monitor school attendance, behavior and academic progress of students on informal or formal probation or in a diversion program. The Director of Juvenile Probation serves as a member of County SARB.
Upon receipt of copies of warning letters from the District Attorney, the Probation Department may file violation of probation (VOP) petitions on students under the jurisdiction of the court for truancy or on students on any informal or formal probation contract or diversion program requiring regular student attendance.
Human Services Department /
SonomaWORKS Attendance Verification Program
State welfare reform legislation requires all recipients of AFDC/TANF funds to ensure that their school-age children are enrolled in and are satisfactorily attending school. The Sonoma County Human Services Department has formed a partnership with the schools and County SARB to provide and coordinate services to improve attendance of children in families receiving aid.
The Human Services Department requires families to obtain school verification of attendance twice a year. Unsatisfactory attendance may result in financial sanctions. The department accepts phone calls or letters from schools or local SARB about poor attendance patterns and/or related issues of children in AFDC/TANF families, including copies of truancy letters, and responds with warning letters or referral to the family’s social worker.
Child Protective Services staff attend local SARB hearings as requested. The Human Services Department assigns staff to serve as a member of County SARB.
Sonoma County Courts Intervention
The courts may assign penalties against parents or students for failure to follow the directives of SARB and/or the District Attorney. For Education Code 48293 (compulsory attendance) infractions, options include fines or parent education and/or counseling. For Penal Code 272 (contributing to the delinquency of a minor) misdemeanors, options include fines and/or county jail time or probation. The courts may adjudge students a ward of the court under Welfare and Institution Code 601(b). Penalties against the student may include a fine, community service, weekend work program, revocation or delay of a driver’s license, probation or juvenile hall.
Questions may be directed to:
- Stephen Nielsen, School and Court Liaison