Truancy linked to a high social cost in the United States

Published: Wednesday, March 27 2013 5:54 p.m. MDT

East high School students sit on the E after walking out of class to protest the $5 truancy citation policy in Salt Lake City Friday, March 30, 2012.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Illinois state prison data reveal an iron-clad link between school truancy and crime, according to a series on truancy in the Chicago Tribune.

"Of 182 boys and young men recently locked up in Illinois' three medium-security youth prisons, at least 135 used to miss so much school that they were labeled chronic truants," the story said. "Nearly 60 percent couldn't even read at the third-grade level when they were booked in.

"At the largest of the three facilities, the Illinois Youth Center St. Charles, all but nine of the 72 youths had dropped out of school entirely by the time they were incarcerated."

The story indicates that being absent from school is an early warning system for criminal misconduct that destroys young lives and burdens society with costs of street violence, welfare and prison.

The story is part of a Chicago Tribune series that revealed a long-ignored crisis in K-8 truancy and absence that showed tens of thousands of Chicago elementary school students are absent for a month or more during a school year.

"Detached from school long before the legal dropout age, many of these youths became foot soldiers in the violent gangs that have terrorized Chicago's poorest neighborhoods and roiled the politics of City Hall," the story said.

Truancy is a big problem in New York City, too, prompting Mayor Michael Bloomberg to launch a city-wide campaign in 2010 aimed at combating the problem. Pilot schools are outperforming comparison schools in New York City, where chronically absent students in the pilot schools gained 11,800 days of attendance last year.

Statistics from New York City echo Chicago's: one out of five public school students was chronically absent last year, meaning they missed a month of more of school. Three out of four students who are chronically absent in the sixth grade never graduate from high school. And 79 percent of New York City children in the juvenile justice system have records of chronic absenteeism.

To fight the problem, more than 9,000 chronically absent children were matched with mentors, and an awareness campaign was launched in spring of 2012. The campaign helps parents track their children's school attendance through a Web-based help center.

Homework centers were created at all family shelters in the cities, and the city began working to ensure that families placed at shelters were kept within the school district of their youngest child. Corporate partners were engaged to improve attendance by donating such incentives as shopping sprees, event tickets and thousands of free backpacks.

In England, a no-nonsense approach to truancy is being taken — one that places blame for student truancy on parents, and makes them pay.

Education News reports that statistics from England's Department of Education shows that the number of parents forced to pay truancy fines is up 25 percent this year. More than 40,000 fines have been assessed this year, each for the equivalent of $90. Once fined, parents have 42 days to pay up, or they could face prosecution. The number of truancies is beginning to decline, the story said.

EMAIL: cbaker@deseretnews.com

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