True cost of truancy far higher than fines

FILE -- A Kern High School District officer is seen during a truancy sweep in 2016. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Skipping school or helping someone skip school is against the law, and in California the penalties are lofty.

For the kids, it can cost $50, 40 hours of community service, or even a suspended driver's license.

Parents of truant kids can be put in jail and get a fine up to $2,500.

While these may sound harsh, they are nowhere near as devastating as the results of the education lost while kids aren't in school.

The school year is only 180 days.

"It's really important to be in that seat, hear what's going on, because you have another 185 days that you're out," said Bryan Campoy, supervising administrator of innovative programs at Kern High School District.

Campoy said when students miss one day of school, they end up falling back quickly. When they return, it is tough to simultaneously learn the current lesson and the one they've missed.

It doesn't take many missed days of school to knock a kid off their grade's reading level.

"Students who miss two or three days a month are behind in their grades, are behind in their test scores," Campoy said.

It may sound like an exaggeration, but it has some truth to it when you do the math.

School years are 10 months long, so missing three days a month would total 30 missed days. That's six weeks of school missed.

If a student keeps that habit through all 12 years of school they'll miss 360 days. That's two entire school years.

With this in mind, it is very important for parents to motivate their children to go to school everyday.

Their cellphone, their TV, their games, their outings, sometimes even the door to their bedroom can all be taken away as punishment for missing school, said KHSD truancy interventionist Elvira Delatorre.

She said the items should be returned when the child returns to school and should only be taken away for a week at a time so the child doesn't feel they will never get them back.

Delatorre said kids can be cunning and will try just about anything to get out of school, and she suggested using the rule of thumb she uses for her kids.

"If you're not running a fever, if you're not throwing up, if you don't have diarrhea, then you're going to school," said Delatorre.

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