School administrators work to stop kids from skipping class

YAKIMA, Wash. -- KIMA is tracking how many kids are skipping school across the Yakima Valley. We learned thousands are ditching class.

It's a problem school districts are trying to solve. The Yakima School District alone reports thousands of kids skipped classes over the last two years. Administrators want to turn this around.

Jeremiah Morales eats his lunch in the Stanton Academy cafeteria. School used to be something he stayed away from.

"I was just too busy with the bad life," said Jeremiah.

Jeremiah once went to Eisenhower High. But, he stopped going after his first two weeks there.

Jeremiah said he got into drugs and alcohol. Three years went by without going to class.

"The time I came back to school, I realized how important education really is," said Jeremiah.

It's Rod Bryant's job to make sure that the kids who are supposed to be in school show up on campus. He's the Yakima School District's truancy coordinator. It's his belief more kids skip school because they're overwhelmed by state testing and graduation requirements.

"It's just not as easy anymore as just coming to school and passing your classes," said Bryant.

Whatever the reason, there's more truancy in Yakima. The number of unexcused absences in high school jumped over the last two school years. However, fewer kids have five or more in a month. There's also a drop in students with 10 or more such absences in a year.

SROs patrol popular hangouts when kids skip school. If they find any, students are brought back to campus. Counselors also get involved. But, if nothing works, the district can petition for a court order to force kids to show up.

In Sunnyside, the problem more than doubled. Administrators said one of the reasons is they adopted stricter guidelines to define absences two years ago. They rely on working and meeting with parents if their kids miss a lot of school. That could go as far as setting up an attendance contract.

Truancy is getting better in Selah. The number of unexcused absences dropped across the board.

Jeremiah doesn't skip school anymore. In fact, he's on track to graduate in June.

"We're already ordering our cap and gowns, and it's just amazing," said Jeremiah.

"Every time a student gets back on track, there's a strong possibility now that student is going to graduate from high school," said Bryant.

Yakima's truancy coordinator said it's rare when students keep skipping school after the court gets involved. But, if they do, community service or detention are the next options.