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County DA’s office and school districts partner to reduce student absences

Student absences, excused or not, are a big problem in California.

“Either you’re in school or you’re not in school and when you’re not in school, you’re not learning,” said Jane Mills, Director of Student Services at Palm Springs Unified School District.

The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office is now partnering with all county school districts to keep kids behind a desk, not behind bars.

More than 150 school employees and prosecutors attended the Every Day Counts: Reducing Chronic Absenteeism conference in Riverside Monday to learn about teaching attendance.

“We say to students, ‘You have to be in school,’ and we mean that. If we say that and then don’t follow up then we’re not doing our job,” said Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin.

Participants focused on why kids are absent and how to offer resources to every parent to prevent juvenile crime.

“If they don’t go to school they’re going to be walking the streets, breaking into homes and gets them involved with law enforcement,” said Deputy District Attorney Douglas Gee.

An estimated 250,000 elementary school students across California are considered chronically absent, which means they miss 10 percent or more of the school year, 90 percent are from low-income families.

African American youth have the biggest problem with attendance and latinos are more likely to be chronically absent than white students.

“In our criminal justice system, about 50 percent of the inmates are hispanics. We’re losing our young men,” said Deputy District Attorney Evelyn Essenwanger.

Hestrin has dedicated 11 attorneys to community prosecutions to intervene on student absences, but he said it’s ultimately up to parents.

“If you’re a parent and not doing your job to make sure your son or daughter shows up to school, you’re going to hear from someone, the school district and ultimately us. We urge you not to let it get to that point,” Hestrin said.

KESQ News Team

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