Due to their students’ delinquency in attending classes, police, and school officials in Anaheim are using GPS tracking to ensure that they have better attendance records.
The Anaheim Union High School District is the first in California to use GPS technology as part of their program to keep track of students with delinquent attendance status.
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Seventh and eighth graders with four unexcused absences or more within the school year are assigned to carry with them a handheld GPS device about the size of a cell phone. Each morning, they get automated phone calls reminding them to get to school on time. They will then have to enter a code that tracks their locations five times a day: as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, during lunch time, when they leave for the day, and again at 8:00 p.m.
These students are assigned coaches who will call them at least three times a week to keep track of how they’re doing and to help them find effective ways to get to class on time. Students, as well as their parents, volunteer for them to take part in the monitoring as a way to avoid continuation school or prosecution with potential to stay in the juvenile hall.
The system is not meant to be a punishment for students but rather a form of intervention to help them develop better habits. The overall cost of the program is pretty expensive but is paid for by a state grant.
Students who routinely skip classes are prime candidates to become delinquents and join gangs, said the police, and for every absent student, a school loses $35 per day, which is why the program can pay more for itself if students consistently return to class.
This type of project has been well-received in cities like San Antonio and Baltimore, where the GPS technology has been implemented, with an average attendance jumping from 77 percent to 95 percent during the duration of the program.
The attendance rate dipped slightly once the students stopped carrying the tracking device, but many learned new habits that helped them somehow. Besides, the coaches still continued speaking with them for a year.
School administrations are also thrilled by the concept. Kristen Levitin, the principal at Dale Junior High in West Anaheim, said, “This is their last chance at an intervention. Anything that can help these kids get to class is a good thing.”
All in all, about 75 students from Dale and South Junior high schools took part in the program. District officials will later on decide whether or not to expand it to high schools and other junior highs.
So far, reception of the study has been mixed, and not all parents have been supportive.
Rafael Garcia, who has a sixth grader with six unexcused absences, said, “I feel like they come at us too hard, and making kids carry around something that tracks them seems extreme.”
He also added, “This makes us seem like common criminals.” Students with dismal absences in grades 4–6, as well as their parents, were required to attend the program orientation; however, they were not required to carry the GPS devices.
Police investigator Armando Pardo reminded the parents, however, that letting kids skip school without a valid reason is in fact, a crime; and if the district attorney chooses to prosecute, then the kids could be sentenced to juvenile hall, while their parents could face up to $2,000 in fines.
Other parents are more open to the idea. Hoping to keep their child in school, the Cruz family bought a GPS for their son, Juan, who has five excused and five unexcused absences already. His recent report card showed his highest grade being a C and failing in several classes.
When asked about his absences, 13-year-old Juan said, “Sometimes I’m sick and, other times, I just don’t feel like going.” He’s not looking forward to being tracked, but he kept the device in his pocket so that he wouldn’t lose it.
Parents will be responsible for paying for lost devices, but considering their nature, this rarely happens. Juan’s mother, Cristina, was supportive of the program and said that she hoped it could help her son. “I understand that he’s been missing class. He’s one of six children, and we can’t always keep an eye on him. I think this is a good idea that will help him.”