Ambitious SF Politician Targets Truant Teens

Kamala Harris, seeking higher office, aims to curb student absences

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    Kamala Harris, San Francisco's district attorney, is cracking down on truant teens as she eyes higher office.

    San Francisco high school students had better watch out: The city's district attorney is casting a wider net for kids who skip school.

    For the last four years, District Attorney Kamala Harris has worked with the local school district to zero in on truant elementary and middle-school students and their parents. Her idea was that the adults responsible for the children should be the ones held accountable for their chronic absences and, after several warnings, would be prosecuted if they could not get their children to class.

    Harris and San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Carlos Garcia announced today that the program has been expanded to include high school students. Select high school students who have been identified as chronically and habitually truant will be targeted for the initial monitoring and tracking of high school truancy cases and preliminary intervention.

    According to the D.A.’s office, statistics show that chronically absent students are most often the ones who end up behind bars later in life. That should make life easier for Harris's successors in the D.A.'s office, even if Harris doesn't stick around to see the results: Harris, a notably ambitious politician, announced plans to run for California attorney general last fall.

    Harris’s office claims to have had contact with 1,500 students and families through truancy mediations and has brought 20 parents before the court on truancy-related cases. The majority of the charged parents chose to work with the court to get their children back in school, and most of these children have returned to attending school on a regular basis.

    In the 2005-2006 school year, 40 percent of San Francisco elementary-school students had 10 or more excused absences. That number dropped to just 20 percent last year, a change Harris has attributed it to the truancy program.