HAYWARD -- Police and school resource officers fanned out across the city Tuesday, tracking down students who were skipping class.
They put the 20 students on bright-yellow school buses, which delivered them to the district's high schools, where counselors sat down with them to learn why they weren't in school and figure out what could be done to get them to attend classes.
"If you're not in class, you're not learning," said Andrew Kevy, Hayward child welfare and attendance coordinator.
Hayward has the highest truancy rate in Alameda County: 62.6 percent, according to the California Department of Education. Oakland's is 43.8 percent, San Lorenzo's is 37.1 percent, and Castro Valley's is 20.2 percent. In Union City's New Haven district, the rate is 36 percent, and San Leandro's is 21.4 percent.
A truant is defined as a student who has three or more unexcused absences, or who is late to class three times without an excuse for more than half an hour, Kevy said.
Hayward's truancy rate may be higher than some other districts because it is diligent about reporting students who are late, Kevy said. Still, absenteeism is a problem in the district, he said.
The goal of Tuesday's sweep was not to punish students, but to provide support for them, said Stanley Dobbs, Hayward interim superintendent.
"Some students think they're too far behind and give up," he said. "I tell them, 'We can help you, but not if you quit.'"
Others may have trouble getting to school on time because of transportation issues, said John Taylor, a school board trustee.
Students who are being bullied can be afraid to go to school, said Elliott Beverley, an outreach worker with the district's child welfare and attendance office.
"And some haven't been pushed by their family. Working parents may not be there to keep track of their children. There can be a disconnect, especially when the parents don't speak English," he said.
Hayward had an average daily attendance of 94.9 percent last year. The absent students meant a loss of $6 million from the state, Dobbs said.
If a student is truant, a letter is sent to the family.
"It's to alert the family that, hey, their kid is not in school and this is a problem," Kevy said. "Even three days of missed instruction can throw a kid off track. The goal is to stop the truancy, not to penalize the student."
Hayward schools are attacking not only truancy, but also chronic absenteeism, which is when a student misses more than 10 percent, or 18 days, of the school year, even if the absence is excused.
Last year, only 56 percent of the district's high school students had satisfactory attendance, missing less than 5 percent of the school year. The number was even lower for African-Americans, at 42 percent.
"When parents complain to me that their child isn't learning, I tell them the kids have to be in school for us to educate them," Dobbs said.
Hayward Unified is teaming up with Alameda County Health Care Services to address some of the reasons for absenteeism, Kevy said. The county's Center for Healthy Schools and Communities has expanded Our Kids Our Families -- which provides crisis intervention and counseling for at-risk students and their families -- to Hayward and Mount Eden high schools. The program is in place at all district middle schools and most elementary schools, too.
Tiburcio Vasquez Health Center runs a school-based health center at Tennyson High School that includes counseling.
"We're also taking a closer look at attendance as it relates to chronic health issues, such as diabetes, asthma and obesity," Kevy said. "We think that's why we have a lot of kids absent at our elementary schools."
With the county's help, the district is addressing those health problems, with school nurses working with the students and their families, and school parent centers teaching about healthy eating and lifestyles. The district also is looking at ways to better track absences caused by chronic health problems, Kevy said.
Even social media and technology can be to blame for students not being in class, Beverley said. "A student may be up all night on the computer or gaming, and then be too tired to come to school the next morning," he said.