HAYWARD -- Kids can't learn if they're not in class, and Hayward Unified has mounted a campaign to stress the importance of attendance for the benefit of students, as well as the district.
The campaign, launched last week, initially involves contacting parents via fliers, posters and phone calls. Between February and April, there will be informational meetings at Parent Centers on various campuses.
The campaign stresses the importance of attendance, as well as good health habits. It seeks to make sure parents understand that days off are not something to be taken lightly, whether the child is cutting class or sick.
"We have students who miss school for valid reasons such as illness "... without realizing that absences really can add up," said Andrew Kevy, child welfare and attendance coordinator for the district. "It really negatively impacts a student's ability to keep their learning on pace with their class."
It's also costly for the district. Superintendent Janis Duran estimated Hayward Unified receives about $40 a day from the state for kids who attend classes, regardless of whether an absence is excused or not.
She stated that one high school alone is losing on average $4,492 per day. Multiplied by 180 school days, and that's more than $800,000 during the course of the year at one campus.
Duran said that one elementary school is losing an average of $1,200 a day, which also adds up.
The district could not provide a total figure for how much was lost in the 2009-2010 school year because of truancy, but said it has a major effect on programs and services.
"This reduces or eliminates programs like summer school, adult school, art and music, (and) results in bigger class sizes and less supplies, transportation and maintenance of facilities," said Duran in a statement.
It's not the first recent attempt to combat truancy.
The city passed an ordinance last year that allows administrative fines for children found out of school without a permissible reason. The first offense is $100, $200 for the second, and $500 for the third and thereafter.
Police Sgt. Jeff Snell, who is in charge of the Student Resource Officer program, said that while they've only issued two citations this month, there were 16 in December and 55 in November.
Snell added that the district has truancy hearings each week where habitually truant children and their parents are brought before an attendance review board, which explains that legally, parents must make sure their children attend school.
District officials had no comment on whether the fines and legal actions have been effective, but Jan Stephenson, district coordinator for student and parent support programs, said taking parents to court is not an ideal solution.
"Sometimes parents don't have resources, or they have extenuating circumstances," Stephenson said.
She added that while they may not be able to force parents to make sure their kids get to school, she believes getting the information about absences out there will help.
"Parents can make other parents understand," she said. "That's our goal, to spread the word."
The Attendance Improvement Initiative will be discussed at the district's next board meeting, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Hayward City Council chamber, 777 B St.