Fresno Unified truancy program with district attorney approved

Two truant juveniles are led back to Sunnyside High School by a campus safety assistant in 2008.
Two truant juveniles are led back to Sunnyside High School by a campus safety assistant in 2008. Fresno Bee file

Fresno County supervisors approved a plan Tuesday that employs a lawyer in the District Attorney’s Office in a truancy project with Fresno Unified School District.

The program, paid for with a grant through Fresno Unified, will add more “teeth” to the school district’s efforts to cut truancy, said Kristi Jackson, attendance coordinator for Fresno Unified.

Of Fresno Unified’s roughly 74,000 students, more than half were considered truants in 2013-14, according to state reports.

The reasons could range from a student illness and parents not calling their school to involvement in illicit behavior.

Jackson said the district takes about 90 cases against parents of truant students to court each year; some cases involve families that are repeat offenders.

Last year, the district met with families to warn them about the involvement of the District Attorney’s Officeto improve compliance, she said.

“We began with putting the district attorney’s logo on the letters we send out,” Jackson said. “It’s opening up more conversations than we would have had previously in getting the attention of the parents.”

42,500The number of Fresno Unified, students considered truant during the 2013-14 school year

The 10-month program allows for appointment of a deputy district attorney at a cost of $143,884, paid for with a grant from Fresno Unified School District. The program includes employee training, meetings with parents and students, letters to families and prosecution, if necessary.

Those parents not making strides in getting their children to school could be taken to court and charged with an infraction.

A similar four-year truancy program that paid for a deputy district attorney ended in 2002.

That program, also funded by Fresno Unified, reduced the number of truants, said Stephen Wright, assistant district attorney for Fresno County. The program won a statewide award before Fresno Unified stopped funding it, he said.

Supervisors also supported an agreement with the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools for the Truancy Intervention Program to reduce truancy in schools around the county. The superintendent of schools is providing $137,067, and the county will chip in $64,368 in state Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act funding for the program from the Fresno County Probation Department.

In other action: Supervisors approved adding $340,000 for funding private lawyers to defend the county’s medical marijuana ordinance. The county had a cap of $210,000, but has outspent that amount because of appeals filed in Fresno County Superior Court opposing $1,000 per plant fines.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @beebenjamin