Letter from Superintendent Nancy Johnson
This email was sent by the Superintendent on November 2, 2016 to district familiesNovember 2, 2016Dear Parents/Guardians of Saratoga Union School District’s Students,I am writing to address the State-mandated notification that our District schools must send when your child has been tardy over 30 minutes and/or absent without lawful excuse on three occasions.* A few parents, when first learning about this legal requirement, have reacted with alarm, while others have understood that the District must perform its legal duty with respect to unexcused absences.Background:I believe this discrepancy in reactions is due to three factors: 1) While the compulsory education law and truancy criteria have been a part of CA Education Code, Board Policy and our student handbooks for many years, they have been inconsistently enforced in the past; and, 2) The State Attorney General’s Office, the CA Department of Education and the State Board of Education have increased their monitoring of District accountability measures for ensuring student attendance in recent years. 3) Understandably, parents are concerned about possible consequences for unexcused absences and their impact on student records.Recently, I have received dissenting opinions from a few parents insisting that our District’s students should be exempt from compulsory attendance, because we are among the highest achieving districts in the State. Please know that student attendance laws apply to all students between the ages of six and 18 in all California public schools. Simply stated, all public schools are beholden to State law irrespective of the level of student achievement.Compelling Circumstances Necessitating an Unexcused AbsenceWe understand that circumstances arise, such as family gatherings or celebrations in other states or countries that take place during the school year and are considered vital to a child’s development and family relationships. In this, and in similar situations, parents will need to make a decision in the best interests of their child and the family as a whole. Your child’s teacher and principal empathize with the parents’ dilemma in cases like this. Please feel free to discuss your family’s decision with the teacher and/or principal in advance, so we can help to provide instructional continuity for your student.Common MisperceptionsThere are a few common misperceptions circulating about the District’s ability to assign academic work to students who miss school to travel. The preparation of stock worksheets for students, to be completed during their absence, is a woefully inadequate replacement for in-class learning. Also, in our experience, many students return these worksheets uncompleted because their travel itinerary did not allow for school work.Instead of worksheets, teachers are encouraged to advise students before their absence of the subject matter that will be covered in class during the absence. For example, a teacher may list the textbook chapters that will be covered in the student’s absence, and ask him/her to prepare for an end-of-chapter math assessment after the student’s return, or complete a writing project connected with the trip, e.g., a daily journal entry or personal narrative that aligns with an on-going writing unit. Students will be allowed to make up key assignments and tests within a reasonable time period when they return.Unexcused Absences Due to Family Vacations Are Strongly DiscouragedWe believe it is vital for students to attend school when they are healthy. Therefore, extended absences for family vacations mid-school-year are strongly discouraged. We also note that according to California Education Code 48205, student absences due to family vacations and trips are unexcused.School is in session for only 180 days per year, and so we ask parents’ cooperation in scheduling vacation during the remaining 185 non-instructional days. Students missing school will be asked to make up missed work, while simultaneously attending to new assignments upon their return. These obligations often add stress to students’ lives.How Do Unexcused Absences Affect Student Records?While teachers and administrators understand parents’ sensitivity to the State’s label of a child as “truant,” please recognize that if there is no pattern of chronic unexcused absences, then the District is not compelled to refer parents to either a school site Student Study Team intervention or contact with law enforcement (listed in the CA Education Code as possible next steps). Additionally, parents may exercise the option of providing a written explanation in response to a school’s notification to parents of a student’s attendance status as “truant.” If such a statement is submitted, it will be added to the student’s record.Saratoga Union School District is committed to partnering with you to ensure the well-being of your child. We value our partnership with families in supporting our students’ continuous and meaningful learning opportunities during the school year.Sincerely,Nancy Johnson, Superintendent
*According to California Education Code 48260.5, school districts must include this information in the first letter to parents/guardians when students have three unexcused absences or tardies over 30 minutes:CA Education Code Section 48260.5 – Any pupil subject to full-time education who is tardy more than 30 minutes or absent from school without valid excuse three days in one school year is truant and shall be reported to the attendance supervisor of the superintendent of the school district. Education Code Section 48260.5 states the following.I. Upon a pupil’s initial classification as a truant, the school district shall notify the pupil’s parent/guardian, by first-class mail or other means, of the following:(a) That the pupil is truant.(b) That the parent or guardian is obligated to compel the attendance of the pupil at school.(c) That Parents or guardians who fail to meet this obligation may be guilty of an infraction and subject to prosecution pursuant to Article 6 (commencing with Section 48290) of Chapter 2 of Part 27.(d) That alternative educational programs are available in the district.(e) That the parent or guardian has the right to meet with appropriate personnel to discuss solutions to the pupil’s truancy.(f) That pupil may be subject to prosecution under Education Code Section 4264.(g) That the pupil may be subject to suspension, restriction or delay of the pupil’s driving privilege pursuant to section 13202.7 of the Vehicle Code.(h) That it is recommended the parent or guardian accompany the pupil to school and attend class with the pupil for one day.