A San Francisco civil grand jury report released today says city and school officials need to get more involved in stemming truancy rates in public schools.
The report said excessive truancy has contributed to the San Francisco Unified School District’s dropout rate of nearly one of out every five students. Black students drop out at nearly twice that rate.
“What’s happening now is a complete lack of functionality in the system itself,” said Abraham Simmons, chair of the grand jury committee that authored the report.
The report said the school district doesn’t contribute enough resources to fighting or even measuring the truancy problem.
It blamed an “insular bureaucracy” and a “culture of territorialism” within the district administration, resulting in a lack of cooperation with the school board and city officials, and a loss of critical information.
Further, the report alleged, a majority of the school district board “has not recognized truancy reduction as an important battle worth waging.”
“There’s no one person we can hold accountable to getting kids to school,” Simmons said.
The report did note that the district’s efforts to reduce truancy among elementary school students, as well as an anti-truancy initiative begun by District Attorney Kamala Harris to prosecute parents of chronically truant students, have shown promise.
“It is absolutely an urgent issue to us,” school district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said today.
“We’re actually doing a lot to address truancy, and there are many factors that contribute,” she said. “Would we love to have more resources? Absolutely.”
Blythe said anti-truancy efforts are making an impact at the elementary school level, while middle school truancy “has remained pretty stable.”
“High school is an area where we still, as a community, have a lot to do,” Blythe said.
Compounding the problem, according to the report, is an unwillingness by city supervisors to challenge the school district board and become more involved in fighting truancy.
“The number of dollars that the city puts into (truancy programs), without really looking at the results of the programs, is what really should be looked at next by the city,” Simmons said.
According to Simmons, Mayor Gavin Newsom has through news conferences and other public appearances made truancy “a visible problem,” but it is the Board of Supervisors, he said, that “has to come up with the plan.”
“A number of the Board of Supervisors have addressed the issue and said, ‘It’s not our problem,'” in recent interviews with the grand jury, Simmons said.
“The School District thinks it is a Board of Supervisors problem, and the Board of Supervisors thinks it is a School District problem,” he said. “The fact of the matter is, it’s both. Both have to be involved.”
Blythe said the school district would respond to the grand jury report within 60 days.
The school district’s past responses to grand jury reports have often included “a lot of fact-checking information,” she said.
Simmons acknowledged that truancy was a community as well as governmental problem, but noted that the civil grand jury’s job was to focus on the governmental side.
He added that crime and higher incarceration rates resulting from lack of education affect everyone, not only poorer or minority neighborhoods.
“At the end of the day, everyone is paying, out of the nose, for the failure of the system as a whole,” Simmons said.