HAYWARD -- Decals have begun showing up in store windows throughout the city that warn, "This merchant will report truant students during school hours."
Teams of police officers and school district workers went throughout the city earlier this month to hand out the stickers at more than 70 businesses where youths might hang out during school hours, such as fast-food outlets, convenience stores and supermarkets.
"Everybody is so happy with this program, and they're glad to see us," said police Officer Tommie Clayton, who was distributing decals.
"I have not seen one person say no, though a couple had to check with their corporate offices. It's gratifying," he said.
The decal program is part of the school district's campaign to improve its graduation rate, which was 71 percent in 2012. Attendance and graduation are closely linked, said Andrew Kevy, Hayward Unified child welfare and attendance coordinator.
"It's pretty simple; we can't teach you if you're not in school," he said.
Almost 63 percent of Hayward students were truant in 2011-12, according to the state Department of Education. The rate is high because any student who has three or more unexcused absences, or who is more than 30 minutes late to class on three different days, Kevy said. Such students could have perfect attendance the rest of the year and still be listed as truants, he said.
"We're doing this decal program as a community, which is a whole different approach than truancy as just a district problem," said Chien Wu-Fernandez, district executive director of student, family and community services.
During the sweep of city merchants, Clayton and Hayward Superintendent Stanley Dobbs dropped off decals at Safeway on Foothill Boulevard. Store employees promptly placed them in the front windows near stickers that read "Under 18, no tobacco, we card" and "Buying tobacco for minors could cost you."
"This will be a great tool," said Bernabe Gonzalez, Safeway assistant manager. "We have the phone number right there to call if we need to. We know who to contact, and the kids will see the decals and know we'll call the police."
Caspers manager Martha Headlee placed the decals on the Foothill restaurant's front door. When students stop there during school hours, "I ask them if they're supposed to be in school. I ask them, 'Where's your mom' and they usually take off," she said.
The decal program is intended to help students, police and school officials said.
"The goal isn't to cite kids -- the goal is to get kids back in school," said police Sgt. Rich Butler, who coordinated the decal distribution.
The push to improve attendance is paying off. Preliminary numbers show average daily attendance in Hayward has gone up a percentage point this semester, to 95.9 percent, compared to 94.9 percent last school year, Kevy said. The ADA is a factor in how much money schools receive from the state.
The decals are one method the school district is using to improve attendance and ultimately graduation rates. Police and district workers also did a truant sweep this fall and plan more, and counselors are working with students who are missing a lot of school and their parents.
The district is holding extra classes to work on basics so students don't fall behind, Kevy said. Students can take online classes to earn missed credits, and weekend sessions are held to help young people pass the California High School Exit Exam.
"Once kids get so far off track and they can't graduate traditionally, they often give up and stop coming to class," Kevy said. "Even if they're behind, there are ways for them to earn their diploma. But they have to first be in school."
Contact Rebecca Parr at 510-293-2473 or follow her at Twitter.com/rdparr1.