Merced Co. program offers resources for students, their families to improve school attendance

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- Friday, a room full of school administrators and support staff learned how to run a successful School Attendance Review Board or SARB.

Board hearings are used when students are continually absent even after phone calls, meetings, contracts, and more.

The training is just one part of a collaboration between the Merced County Office of Education, the District Attorney's Office, and all 20 school districts in the county called the "Here to Learn" program.

The partnership started two years ago intending to increase attendance rates by providing extra resources for families whose children missed excessive amounts of school.

"One of the reasons we entered into this agreement was to try to get kids back in school, and when there's less kids roaming the streets at all hours of the day, the less chance of crime or them getting into trouble themselves," said Bill Olson with the Merced County District Attorney's Office.

A truancy investigator began making home visits, providing referrals, and taking part in SARB hearings. When all else failed, officers conducted sweeps to arrest parents or issue citations for them to appear in court.

Dr. Steve Tietjen says while the enforcement strategy caused some controversy, the program as a whole seems to be working.

"We're seeing attendance rates increase in 12 of our 20 districts so that's great news, and of course the most important thing about that is that students are not falling behind their grade age peers," Dr. Tietjen said.

Dr. Tietjen says he understands that parents face a variety of challenges when it comes to raising children and getting them to school. That's why this program also includes school nurses, psychologists, and agencies that assist with housing, food, and other resources.

Organizers want parents to know that help is available.
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