The law may require kids to attend school until they’re 16, but kids don’t always know from the law and people responsible for them don’t always care. So in many districts, truancy remains an obstacle to teaching kids the basics they need for at least some shot at survival in the real world.
Making sure those kids go to school every day has always been worth fighting for, and it is especially so today in an increasingly competitive marketplace — and with the government paying more attention to school performance.
A story in Wednesday’s Gazette addressed the expanding effort by Gloversville schools, which several years ago enlisted the aid of Fulton County District Attorney Louise Sira to threaten parents of chronically truant students with legal action if their kids didn’t start coming to school more regularly.
Her effort has had mixed results — some parents even blew off meetings she had scheduled with them — so now she and the school district are getting others, including Child Protective Services caseworkers, probation officers, police, even BOCES, to form a coordinated Truancy Task Force. That’s good news, but authorities have to be willing to go the distance on the most egregious cases, filing PINS (Persons In Need of Supervision) petitions and even charging parents with educational neglect or endangering the welfare of a child if they refuse to cooperate.
The Schenectady City School District has been employing a comprehensive approach of sorts, but it really wasn’t until it revamped its attendance police last fall — dispatching attendance officers to the students’ houses to fetch them when they were truant — that a noticeable dent in its truancy problem was made. Attendance for high school freshmen — both new ones and those repeating the grade — rose from 75.6 percent to 87 percent in this year’s second academic quarter. And among new freshmen, the number was even better: 89 percent. If these numbers hold up for the remainder of the students’ high school careers, the school’s dismal graduation rate could rise dramatically.
But efforts like those by Schenectady’s truant officers are just one element of the comprehensive effort needed to improve attendance records among the stubbornly truant. And when the schools’ efforts fail, social services and law enforcement have to be ready to step in.