Truancy epidemic in Richmond elementary schools

In the 2012-13 school year, six elementary schools in WCCUSD had truancy rates above 55 percent. These numbers are almost double the statewide elementary school truancy rate of 30 percent. (Source: California Dept. of Education)

In the 2012-13 school year, six elementary schools in WCCUSD had truancy rates above 55 percent. These numbers are almost double the statewide elementary school truancy rate of 30 percent. (Source: California Dept. of Education)

A recent report by the California attorney general’s office states that approximately 50,000 elementary school students in California were considered chronically truant and more than 250,000 were chronically absent during the 2013-14 school year. The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) had a chronic absence rate of 17 percent.

These numbers represent an attendance crisis that not only takes away funding from the district but also places students at an educational disadvantage. Truants cost Contra Costa County approximately $33,000 in funding during the 2012-13 school year. And that doesn’t begin to tally up the academic and social costs of lost or interrupted learning for young people.

Marcus E. Walton, a WCCUSD spokesman, said the district and its schools are continuously working to improve attendance. Such high truancy rates don’t come as a surprise, he said, because the numbers are high across the state.

A student is chronically truant if he or she is absent without a valid excuse for at least 10 percent of the school year. A student who is absent for any reason, both excused or unexcused, for the same 10 percent is defined as chronically absent. Any student that is absent from school or tardy for more than a 30-minute period without a valid excuse for three full days is defined as truant.

Funding of California school districts is based on average daily attendance (ADA). The ADA is calculated by dividing the total number of days of student attendance by the number of days of school taught during the same period. The district’s budget gets reduced when students miss school.

The report, called In School + On Track 2014, said about 1 in 10 California elementary schools had a truancy rate exceeding 40 percent. Furthermore, almost 90 percent of students with severe attendance problems were identified as low-income; these students missed 36 days or more. African American students were found to be chronically truant at nearly four times the rate of other students.

Richmond elementary schools such as Verde, Lincoln, King and Stege had truancy rates above 50 percent in the 2012-13 school year.

The district and state don’t identify the root of the truancy problem in schools. Walton said the reasons students miss school vary based on individual circumstances.

According to the National Center for School Engagement, which provides resources and research about school attendance and achievement for various state and federal agencies, truancy is often linked to school, home, community and personal factors. Examples of these factors include, but aren’t limited to health, financial and transportation obstacles.

WCCUSD has made efforts to reduce the rates in its schools by working with community partners and families.

“District and school staff work to help parents and students understand the importance of being present every day,” Walton said. “We also attempt to identify any issues that might cause a student to be chronically truant or absent and provide the resources necessary to assist them in getting to school on time.”

Walton said the district has already made improvements by decreasing its chronic absences over the last three years from 45 to 23 percent for black males, and from 17 to 14 percent for Latino males. The district’s 2014 Local Control and Accountability Plan said its goal is to decrease the chronic absence rate to 10 percent in the next three years.

The district uses the Attention2Attendance Program, an intervention software program to help districts reduce truancy and absences. The program is designed to help increase parent communication, recover learning time, improve graduation rates and close the achievement gap.

The attorney general’s report argues that school districts need a better way of tracking truancy so that its office can gain a better understanding of how to begin tackling the crisis. “California is one of only four states in the U.S. that does not track student attendance in its statewide records system,” the report said.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris passed her legislative package, “Every Kid Counts,” in both houses of the California legislature. The package included four bills aimed to reduce elementary school truancy.

Governor Jerry Brown had until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the bills. He vetoed two of the four bills, AB1866 and AB1672, which would have required the state and the local school boards to collect truancy and absenteeism information.

He signed AB2141 and AB1643, which add law enforcement representatives to local school attendance review boards and require prosecutors to report back to schools when asked to charge a parent whose child has missed too much school.

In defense of the vetoes, Governor Brown wrote, “Keeping children in school and learning is a priority, but collecting more data is not the primary solution.”


  1. Mary A. Wilson

    The information in this article is very interesting. The truancy data is beyond noxiously appalling. In this article you can easily see the major social and psychological effects of being poor and how it impacts students’ education. Their truancy draws from an array of problems. I’d like to know how the scab of truancy is going to heal? I hope the state legislature and local school districts will continue to examine and fix the underlying cause of the problem of truancy.
    Keep me informed.

    • Tony Suggs


      Being poor doesn’t automatically make one more likely to be truant. It is the parents priorities that takes precedence.

      My family was not poor, but very close to it as there was 8 or us and only my father working.

      My mother made sure that all 6 kids went to school, did their work and behaved while in class.

      I grew up with neighbor kids that all went to school every day unless actually sick. Many were “On the County” as we called welfare back then.

      That did not deter them from WANTING to get a decent education.

  2. Excellent and informative article! This problem has implications that are far reaching and thanks for penning this piece. I found the governors’ actions to contribute to the problems of truancy and the school to prison pipeline as a result of him vetoing bills AB1866 and AB1672. It is critical to collect this data and quite ironically, politicians are usually empiricist when you asks for money, but the governor is now saying data is not important. Also, the charging of poor parents has the potential to create even more problems depending on the impact of a parent being charged for a child who misses school. Can you share with me what happens to parents who are charged? Thanks.

    • Hannah Lawson Post author


      Thank you for your comment.

      The state report says that parents/guardians can be prosecuted and face fines up to $500.22 if their child is a “habitual truant.” Also, the DA can charge a parent with a misdeamenor if their child is chronically truant and the parent fails “to reasonably supervise and encourage the child’s attendance.”

      Here is a link to the state report to provide you with more info

  3. Richard Seitz

    Districts could reduce truancy in elementary schools by making school FUN again using an Evidenced based Best Practice Strategy studied for 30 years by Johns Hopkins University and replicated numerous times. The Pax Good Behavior Game is used in various schools around the nation and in the entire province of Manitoba. Not only does it reduce truancy, but it increases grades, graduation rates and college admissions. It can increase time-on-task by an hour a day as it cuts classroom disruptions by up to 90%. Look up the Pax Good Behavior Game and find a training near you or bring it to your school. It takes all the pieces that you may be using and puts them into a coordinated system that works in one classroom or an entire school. Classroom disruptions reduced by 90 %, transition times to 10 seconds. 30 years of research and long term outcomes that you won’t care about but should appreciate. Look for grants not only in education but in drug abuse and other fields because Pax GB cuts every negative behavior by 25% to 70% including substance abuse, alcohol, smoking, depression, ADHD, special ed classifications. See Paxis Institute.

  4. Luis

    I got an idea….instead of giving lazy and uncommitted parents a free pass with no repercussion, how about creating accountability?

    We are creating an under educated, under motivated and over entitled subclass of mainly black families….its destroying them slowly.,,,get ready Paisas, our next generation of kids are next.

    Ghettoism is a virus.

Comments are closed.