Mark Mastrov said he knows other Lafayette parents who have received similar letters as students adjust to distance learning as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps classrooms shuttered.
Mastrov’s 12-year-old son, a seventh-grader at Stanley Middle School, missed three 30-minute Zoom sessions during a single day last month, according to the school.
“Out of the blue, we got this letter. It said my son had missed classes and at the bottom, it referenced a state law which said truants can go to jail for missing 90 minutes of class,” Mastrov said. “I called the school and said, ‘Hey, I want to clear this up.’ I was told that it was the law. I said, “Are you kidding me? Then that’s a bad law.’”
The state education code defines a student as truant if absent from school without a valid excuse three full days in a single school year, or tardy or absent for more than a 30-minute period during the school day without a valid excuse on three occasions in a single school year.
Consequences can range from requiring the student to attend make-up classes to fines and incarceration if the student does not change their behavior.
Stanley Middle School Principal Betsy Balmat said the school’s attendance policy has not changed amid the pandemic, despite students now taking classes at home and not being physically present in a traditional classroom.
If a student has unverified absences, the school will make up to three automatic calls to the parent or guardian, saying the child had missed class, Balmat said.
“If we have not heard back after three of those, we send a letter,” the principal said.
What has changed, however, is that teachers now must make sure students are actually participating and not just attending class under recent state law, she said.
Senate Bill 98 was approved in conjunction with the $202 billion budget that Gov. Gavin Newsom signed in July.
It aims for more accountability in distance instruction and requires teachers who offer online learning to interact live with students every day, such as online or by phone. Teachers also must communicate regularly with parents about their child’s progress in class.
Mastrov said his family does not recall receiving any automatic phones calls from Stanley Middle School before the letter arrived.
His son is the fourth child in the family to attend the campus on School Street.Mastrov said his son, who he described as a straight-A student, denies missing any classes. The father suspects the student may have been marked as absent if he logged into a session late and the teacher had already taken roll.
“I am not sure what happened,” Mastrov said. But he thinks it may explain why other parents he knows have received similar letters.
The bigger issue, he said, is labeling a kid who has missed 90 minutes of instruction over a school year as a truant and the potentially harsh penalties that can result.
Mastrov has written to state elected officials, asking for the truancy law to be changed.
“Who passed this law in their infinite wisdom?” he said. “Who in their right mind could do that?”