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7th grader facing arrest for missing Zoom classes in California

The letter from an administrator lists the three periods missed and says "when a student is absent without a valid excuse, the student is considered truent"

SAN FRANCISCO — A parent in San Francisco said a letter he received from his son's middle school, threatening the boy's arrest for missing fewer than two hours of Zoom classes, is total overkill.

The school principal said her administration had no choice but to send the letter, given new state guidelines around keeping better track of attendance as California public schools continue with mostly virtual learning.

"This is our fourth child going through this middle school and out of the blue, we got a letter," explained Mark Mastrov.

Mastrov said he was stunned when the family received a letter threatening his seventh grade son with arrest for missing exactly three 30-minute Zoom sessions, which are regarded as unexcused absences.

"He can become a truant of the state and he could be arrested. I said are you going to come and try to arrest my son at my home or try to fine me for not getting him to his Zoom class perfectly on time every day,” said Mastrov.

Like his classmates at Stanley Middle School, Merek Mastrov spends up to seven hours a day attending virtual school via Zoom.

The letter from a Stanley administrator lists the three periods Merek missed and says "when a student is absent without a valid excuse, the student is considered truant," according to California law. And, "the pupil may be subject to arrest."

The principal at Stanley Middle School said the letter is the result of new state guidelines passed this fall. Senate Bill 98 requires districts to keep a closer eye on student attendance.

"The letter is part of our responsibility to the state for our student attendance review boards. As always, the schools have a responsibility to ensure students are engaged and learning,” said Betsy Balmat, the principal at Stanley.

Mastrov said he's heard from other parents who've received similar letters and he's writing to lawmakers, urging a change in the law.

"Obviously we're in a pandemic and Gov. Newsom is trying to manage it, but if the state of California is focusing on arresting 12-year-old children for missing 90 minutes of school in 10 months, it's ridiculous,” said Mastrov.

California public schools traditionally rely on daily attendance numbers for their state and federal funding.

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