Yesterday, I wrote a post for Moms LA about California's budget crisis and what it means for public education, where I ranted about how all the previous cuts to LAUSD's operating funds have affected my child's public school experience.
I received another example when the mail arrived.
"School records indicate that your child was absent from school without a valid excuse on 3 occasions, beginning with the following dates:
Based on Section 48260 of the Education Code, we are required to inform you that your child is legally truant."
Whenever my daughter misses a day of school, I receive not one, but TWO robocalls informing me of this. This has occurred every time she's been home sick, and every time she's missed a class for a doctor or dental appointment.
I never received a call that I did not expect -- so if she was absent on these days, it must have been for a good reason. And I'm diligent about writing her a note so she can get back into class.
I can look back at my calendar and see when her scheduled medical appointments were. She did not have any on these days. And I don't keep a record of the days she stays home sick.
But the fact that I did not receive any unexpected calls from the attendance office tells me that this is a mistake. After all, this is the kid whose worst grade since beginning high school has been a B in Algebra 2. And that B has gotten into her bonnet to such an extent that I can tell it really pisses her off.
I have to fight to get her to stay home when she's sick, because she does not want to miss anything that might be on one of her tests.
The bottom line is that this is not the kind of kid who cuts class (although I'm not stupid enough to think that will always be the case... but right now, it is).
I was pretty sure this was a mistake. And the letter made it clear I needed to let them know. For one thing, the school seems to be assuming that we're both guilty of something criminal:
In addition to Ed. Code Article 48260.5, mandates that we notify you of the following information:
That the parent or guardian is obligated to compel the attendance of the pupil at school.
That parents or guardians who fail to meet these obligations may be guilty of an infraction and subject to prosecution pursuant to Article 6 (commending with Section 48290) of Chapter 2 or Part 27.
That alternative education programs are available in the district.
That the parent or guardian has the right to meet with appropriate school personnel to discuss solutions to the pupil's truancy.
That the pupil may be subject to prosecution under Education Code Section 48264.
That the pupil may be subject to suspension, restriction, or delay of the pupil's driving privilege pursuant to Section 13202.7 of the Vehicle Code.
That it is recommended that the parent or guardian accompany the pupil to school and attend classes with the pupil for one day.
The letter concluded with a number to call to resolve this issue.
The problem is, when you call the number, you are directed to another number... and that one is answered by a recording, so you never get to speak to a live person.
I get it. The most recent budget cuts resulted in a reduced office staff at the school. (These cuts are not to be confused with the ones last year, the year before, or the so-called "Doomsday Budget" we'll have in 2011-12, if the state GOP refuses to go along with extending current temporary taxes and fees that were implemented to solve a previous budget battle.)
I thought it was telling that the dates in question all occurred after three of the five people staffing the Attendance Office were let go. I decided to drop by the school to see if I could actually talk to one of the ones who was left.
I arrived around 1:30, and the office was bustling. There were at least two other parents clutching similar letters from the District (they must have all gone out at the same time). I waited my turn and tried to stay calm when it finally came.
The woman behind the counter seemed as frustrated as I. "Do you have an account online? You can check on your student there," she told me.
I knew about that system, but had never signed up for it because I didn't feel I needed to check up on my daughter.
She sighed and handed me an application for the online account, which had to be brought in to the on-campus Parent Center to be activated. I would go there after this visit - but first, we took a look at my daughter's records there in the office.
Apparently, she was marked "Absent - No Valid Excuse" (truant) for single periods on those dates. I realized how naive I sounded when I insisted that my daughter does not cut class. By this time, I had expressed some sympathy for the clerk's predicament (overworked and overwhelmed because the office is now so under-staffed). She had softened her attitude toward me.
"You know, sometimes the teacher just marks it wrong. And other times, it's an input error here in the office." She motioned to a stack of excuse notes in her in-basket. It was nearly a foot high. "We're two weeks behind in processing these," she sighed.
Unfortunately, because each of these absences occurred in a single period during the day, a note from the parent isn't going to get them removed from her record. A "Student Attendance Correction Form" on dayglo green paper for each of the absences has to be filled out and signed by the teacher in question.
I grabbed the paperwork, activated my online parent account and waited for school to end so I could fill my daughter in on what was going on.
She was as puzzled by it as I was.
The third accused absence was reported by her PE teacher. She remembered the occasion as one when she was working on a project in another class and had a legitimate excuse. She was certain this one would be easy to clear.
But the two absences on subsequent Tuesdays in December are a mystery. For one thing, they were reported by a teacher she doesn't even have. Another reason to think it's a mistake.
"Can't you take the form to the teacher you DO have and get him to signify that you were there?"
"He won't remember," she said. "The last time someone gave him one of these, he told him it was too long ago, and he wouldn't sign it."
I tried to argue with her that the teacher has to have some records, but she refused to take those forms, arguing that since she's never had the teacher that reported her missing, she had no one to sign off on it.
I personally think this is a function of her own reticence to make waves. She is my kid, after all.
But someone needs to correct the record.
So this afternoon, I'll be back in the attendance office. I'm hoping the fact that the name of the teacher is wrong is all the proof I need that her truancy was a big fat mistake.
And I will continue to do all I can to stop the gutting of our public schools.