SARB makes a difference in school attendance

By Hillary Vancil

nsa-in-story.jpgWhat does it mean to be “SARBed?” To find out, four people who are deeply involved in student attendance and education were interviewed about the effectiveness of the Student Attendance Review Board (SARB), as well as two students who have been SARBed. Through the interviews SARB’s effectiveness was demonstrated, as well as how SARB operates within Siskiyou County. SARB is also known as the truancy police. The board is in place to keep students in school.

There is a multi-step process to the board once a student is SARBed, and if its policies are violated there can and will be negative consequences. There can be consequences not only for the students, but possibly the parents and even the school, as well.

The SARB panel is made up of different members from throughout Siskiyou County that represent different venues. There is a principal, a superintendent, a member of law enforcement, a probation officer, a mental health worker, and the district attorney or a prosecutor. These members of the community are in charge of students who break the law and skip school. It is up to them to take the time out of their already busy lives to make sure that students are attending school and that the schools get maximum funding through ADA.

One SARB member, Mount Shasta Chief of Police Parish Cross, said, “All we are trying to do is to keep kids from falling through the cracks. If students are not going to school then they are not doing their jobs.”

The SARB committee in Siskiyou County has been around for several years (no one seems to know how long), but somewhere along the line it became inactive.

Kirk Andrus, Siskiyou County District Attorney stated, “When I came into office in April 2005 the SARB was not functioning on a county-wide level, though some districts were doing their own. When I became the DA that is something that I knew needed to be changed.”

Before the SARB process can be initiated, a student must be deemed a truant. According to the Law for Administrators Handbook a truant is: a student who has any combination of three or more unexcused absences or instances of being 30 minutes tardy to class in a single academic year.

According to the handbook, only three categories of absences are excused.
1. Illness, which requires a note from a doctor.
2. A doctor’s appointment, which also requires a note.
3. The death of an immediate family member.

Everything else is unexcused, including family trips and vacations.

Now that a few things have been clarified it will be easier to explain SARB policies and what happens once a student has been qualified as a truant.

After the first three unexcused absences or tardies a letter is sent to the parent(s) of the student and a copy of the letter will be sent to the Siskiyou County Human Services District (SCHSD). If another absence or tardy occurs then it is a second offense and a second letter is sent to the parent(s) and a copy goes to the SCHSD. After another absence or tardy occurs, a third letter is sent to the parent(s) and an appointment will be set up with the SARB board. A copy of the letter will also be sent to the SCHSD.

The student and the parent(s) are required to attend the meeting with the SARB board. At the meeting, the SARB members set up a contract with the parent and the student that will try to help with the student’s attendance at school. For the contract the SARB committee looks at the individual needs of that family and the student. The most common contract agreed on at the board is that the student must be at school on time for 30 consecutive days. If after 30 days the student has failed to attend school without any unexcused absences then the penalty process will be put into effect.

Once the penalty process is put into affect a couple of different things may happen to the student. The SARB committee may start out with a light punishment such as a certain amount of hours of community service or have the student’s driver’s license revoked or delayed. If a student continues to break SARB policies, however, they may be expelled from the regular high school setting and be required to enroll in an alternative high school.

For example, Discovery High School in Yreka is an alternative high school where students who are expelled from Yreka High School are sent to complete their education. If being sent to an alternative school doesn’t solve the problem either, the SARB board may decide to have the student sent to a juvenile detention center as a last resort.

There may be different reactions from parents to the situation, and the way they handle it can determine any consequences they may receive.

One of the students from Weed High School that was interviewed said, “Yeah, my parents knew that I wasn’t going to school, but they didn’t really care because I was working. It’s not like I was just goofing off and wasting my time.”

The other student that was interviewed went to Enterprise High School in Redding about four years ago and they said,

“I did get sent to a SARB board, and my parents were trying to make me go to school, but I just didn’t. I took AP classes and got good grades, and I did it not going to school at all. My parents were very upset with me and took away all my ‘important’ things.  And when I look back at it, I see why they were so upset because they could have gotten in a lot of trouble.”

These two statements offer different reactions from parents although the student’s reasons were somewhat of the same nature. Something that parents need to realize is that they can get in trouble for their child not going to school, whether they know it or not. The first offense punishment may be light, but can get progressively worse.

For a first offense the parent cannot be fined more than one hundred dollars. For a second offense the parent cannot be fined more than two hundred and fifty dollars, and for a third and final offense the parent cannot be fined more than five hundred dollars. After a third offense to the policy then a parent may face jail time.

“If the parent fails to get the child to school and keep them there then they are not living up to their responsibilities.” stated Cross.

The SARB board is not entirely unreasonable however. They realize that the parents are not always at fault which is why they must look at the problem carefully. If the parent is trying to make the student go to school, then the board will most likely consider that. They have to be very careful in their calculations to make sure they do not punish the wrong people. The board also always has school officials on it and they know the family well so it is easier to make a decision as to who is at fault.

Andrus was asked how parents typically react to being required to go to meetings.

He said, “The most common reactions that I have seen are, 1. The response, “I have no control over what my child does.” 2. They are generally embarrassed, and 3. The parents make excuses such as we were out of town or my child has been sick a lot.”

It is not just the students and parents that are affected by truancy, the school may be affected too. The punishment is not the same as a student or parent’s punishment. The school’s budget can be affected when students skip school.

In Siskiyou County every high school is deemed as either a small necessary school, or an ADA school. Mt. Shasta and Yreka are the only ADA schools. At the beginning of every academic school year there are a certain amount of students enrolled at the school. Every school has a budget depending on the attendance or students during the school year.

Mike Ristuccia, principal at Weed High School, gave an example. Weed High School gets a budget of $1,474,340 for the next school year if the average of the student attendance is 172-210 at the end of March. If the average number drops below 172 by March then the school will get less money the next year. Most of the money included for the budget for the next year is teacher salary. If the number is below 172 then they have to cut a salary position because of a lower budget. That means one less teacher and six less classes for Weed High School. Weed is a very small school and cannot afford to have classes cut, since there are not a lot of options to begin with. On the other hand if the number goes above 210 then the school will become an ADA school and their budget for the next year will increase and they may gain a salary position.

The bottom line is if students are not going to school, the entire school may be affected budget wise. Other students will be affected as well because their class choices may be limited even further. Many of the students in the Siskiyou Union High School District, where Weed High School is located, have to go to other high schools and even College of the Siskiyous to take the classes that they want. This is a hassle to many of the students because they have to wrestle with their schedules to make things work.

One student who is taking a class at another high school said, “It is a bit irritating when I can’t get back to the school when school is actually over because I take a class in McCloud. I get back twenty minutes after school gets out, which makes me late for practice or anything I need or want to do at the school.”

Another student stated, “I take a class at Mount Shasta High school, and it is inconvenient most of the time because I have to leave one of my required classes 15 minutes early just to get to the bus to get to my next class. And then sometimes the bus that brings us back is late and I miss the bus that takes me home. Then I have to walk the three miles to my house, which is not fun at all if it is raining or snowing.”

Both of the students are from Weed High School and there are many other students from the high school in that position. Any other budgets cuts that are caused by truancy may make the situation worse for students who are already leaving campus.

Siskiyou Union High School District Superintendent, Mike Matheson who was the principal at Weed High School for five years until 2008, was asked if he had seen a increase in students being sent to SARB since he was principal at Weed High School

He said, “Over the past three years I have definitely seen the SARB committee being used more regularly than it had been before. There may have been the same amount of students skipping school, but because the policy is now being enforced more, a lot more students have been caught.”

Kirk Andrus was asked the same question and he said, “Ever since SARB has been reestablished every year there are more kids sent to the board than there were in the previous year. It comes down to the schools are getting better at catching and tracking the students that skip school.”

The same students quoted above both said that SARB did not really affect them because they did not see anything wrong with what they were doing.

However Matheson said that SARB did seem to have a positive affect on the younger students, especially the freshman and sophomores. He said that for the older students it was a 50-percent chance of it having a positive affect. The closer the students are to 18, the less it seemed to affect the students because they do not have to be in school after they turn 18.

“So they basically ride it out until their birthday,” said Matheson.

The SARB panel is in place to make sure that students attend school regularly. Students are required by law to go to school and receive an education at least until they are 18. If SARB must, they will punish a student or their parents or even just give them a wake-up call with a SARB meeting.

The less a student is subjected to the board the lighter the consequences will be. The school’s budget and potentially other students may be affected, which can be serious especially for small necessary high schools like Weed High School.

The four men that were interviewed all believe strongly in education and support the SARB board completely. The two students that were interviewed were hardly affected at all by the SARB board, but it was made clear that it does affect students and very seriously. Now that the board is being implemented more frequently attendance at Weed High School is higher than it used to be, according to Ristuccia.

Students have a responsibility to go to school, but it is not all on them. It is also the parent’s responsibility to make sure they actually go, and if neither of those come through, then the school takes the responsibility to contact the SARB board. The SARB board promotes education, and responsibility by catching the students who may be falling through the cracks of society.

The above article is Weed senior Hillary Vancil’s Senior Project. Vancil plans to attend Chico Sate next fall, majoring in Journalism.

She said that she chose to study journalism at Chico State because, “I love to write and Chico has one of the best Journalism programs in California.”

Her junior year, Vancil was the Editor of the Weed HS newspaper. She is currently the Vice-President of the senior class.

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