Written by Cyndi Jo Means, Deputy District Attorney, Truancy Team Leader, San Diego District Attorney’s Office
In September, 2013, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a report making Truancy a priority in our state. To that end, the District Attorney’s Office has been providing Truancy Mediation Clinics at the San Diego Law Library since November, 2012. The program started in South Bay with Chula Vista Elementary School District. It has now expanded to the Vista and East County branches of the Law Library, with Mediations taking place on Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week. At this time, all East County Schools, the majority of North County Schools, two South Bay Schools, and San Diego Unified School District are participating, with additional school districts requesting the program. Deputy District Attorney Cyndi Jo Means, Truancy Team Leader for the San Diego Truancy Team Collaboration, runs the Mediations, which include a school district representative and parents and children of truant families.
The goal of the Mediations is to “even the playing field” and give all parties an opportunity to discuss issues affecting the child’s truancy, and come up with a plan, agreeable to all, to solve the problem. The program has been tremendously successful, with the majority of families – most with truancy issues going back several years — turning things around after 30 days!! After the initial Mediation, families return for “progress updates,” with Mediation Agreements added-to, or changed, if necessary. For successes, children and families receive gift cards, provided with funding authorized by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis.
The Mediations are also an encouragement and support for the families, with some choosing to return, even when they “don’t have to.” As Vista Law Librarian Cheryl Weeks-Frey has noticed: “The families come in angry, and they leave smiling.”