California school district battles truancy with GPS

Gadgets that track chronically absent students are cost-effective for school

Students with a tendency towards truancy in California's Anaheim Union High School District are being assigned GPS units to make sure they're going to school on time, according to The Orange County Register. The GPS units are the size of a (chunky) cellphone and are developed by Dallas-based AIM Truancy Solutions, which operates in more than 100 middle and high schools in three states.

The Anaheim Union High School District is part of a volunteer six-week pilot program that is outfitting seventh and eighth grade students who have more than three unexcused absences with these devices. In Austin, Texas, where this experiment also ran, it was used for middle and high school students who had racked up between 20 to 25 absences.

When asked by the Orange County Register why the devices are handheld rather than strapped to the students, Miller Sylvan, regional director of AIM Truancy Solutions, said, "We don't want to criminalize the kids or have them wear any bracelet or something around their ankle that would stigmatize them."

Every school day, the participants receive an automated phone call reminding them to get to school on time. They are then required to enter a code that tracks their location during their departure for school, arrival at school, lunch period, departure from school and at 8 p.m., the Register reports.

The devices cost between $300 and $400 apiece. All together, the six-week program costs about $8 per day for each student, or $18,000. It's estimated that schools lose $35 per day for each absent student, so AIM Truancy Solution's program is a cost savings.

Some parents weren't thrilled with the program. "This makes us seem like common criminals," one parent, whose child accumulated six unexcused absences, told the Register.

But perhaps carrying a GPS unit and regularly logging one's location is better than the alternative: Police Investigator Armando Pardo told the Register that if the District Attorney prosecutes, truant students could be sent to juvie and get smacked with a $2000 fine.

"Nearly two-thirds of the students enrolled in AIM [in the fall semester of 2010] achieved perfect attendance while on the initial program, and all students combined averaged 97 percent attendance," according to a press release.

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