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Kamala Harris: absenteeism interferes with ‘students’ rights’

Jamie Alter Lynton | September 12, 2014

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Attorney General Kamala Harris

Attorney General Kamala Harris (photo by KNX)

California Attorney General Kamala Harris appeared at LA Unfiied’s Malabar Elementary School today to highlight a report on truancy released by her office this week that shows a high correlation between attendance problems and both income and race.

But the argument she’s using to bring attention to the issue is curious: the report notes the high rates of absenteeism “interfere with students’ right to an education under the California Constitution.”

Sound familiar? You may remember that students’ rights argument from the Vergara case, in which a judge struck down California’s teacher tenure and dismissal laws based on findings that the laws interfered with students’ right to a quality education protected under the California constitution.

But Harris apparently didn’t buy it – late last month she joined the teachers union to fight that ruling by filing an appeal on behalf of the state, putting her at odds with recent public polling on the issue.

Meanwhile, back to the report. It found a high correlating between truancy and race: 37 percent of African American elementary students sampled were truant, the highest of any subgroup (including homeless students) and 15 percentage points higher than the rate for all students. African American elementary school students are also chronically truant at nearly four times the rate of all students.
Chronic Truancy Rates LAUSDThe report could not pinpoint the exact reasons for the stark difference without better tracking and data. It noted that, “African American children experience many of the most common barriers to attendance – including health issues, poverty, transportation problems, homelessness, and trauma – in greater concentration than most other populations.”

Harris has crafted legislation – now awaiting the signature of Governor Jerry Brown – which she says will help address some of the issues. Among the proposed fixes are beefing up student support systems and streamlining how the state shares and tracks student absences.

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