Truancy Sweep Reveals Deeper Problems
It's an age old problem that schools and law enforcement face, but resolving truancy in Alachua County has become a multi-agency effort. Skipping school doesn't go unnoticed, and has it's consequences not just for students.
Today WCJB had an opportunity to ride along with Alachua County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Levy, as he did a truancy sweep. What we learned was that skipping school is often symptomatic of deeper issues that require treating families not just kids.
This is not a part of his regular routine, but several times a year he, along with others from ASO and Gainesville Police sweep the streets for students not in school.
"The school says we've called several times...and she has some paperwork, maybe today it'll get straightened out," explains Levy as we approach the first address on a list of over two hundred.
When asked when she withdrew her child from school, Lori Ramos mother of two explained, "It was actually over a month and half ago." While her case is an issue of misfiled paperwork, Deputy Levy says that he gets calls daily from parents with truant children.
"The parents are looking for help...what do i do with a disrespectful child." Today some of those children will be brought to the interface youth program, also known as Safe Place-- where they'll have to answer for their absences.
Missing 15 days out of 90 will get a kid's name on the list.
According to Cassandra Evan-McCray, regional coordinator, "It takes some working together and everyone coming together to look for a solution.'"
At least 500 young people come through McCray's door a year, though not all for skipping school. Truants however can often have a multitude of issues, including family, juvenile justice and substance abuse. But here many can find refuge and services for themselves as well as their parents.
"They are far far far from being what we would say is a bad kids. they need to have more guidance, more instruction," adds McCray. The at-risk children who stay on premise, including habitual truants, can stay up to 35 days. Here they learn the discipline that will help then improve their situations, including getting up early for school and getting there on time.
But when all else fails, students and their parents end up facing a judge. Holding parents accountable for their children's truancy is only in it's third year in Alachua County. This year there are 7 cases in the courts.
"If they don't want to do it, can't do it too lazy to do it then the child suffers no anybody else," explains Levy. It is against the law for students under 16 to miss school excessively. Though a last resort, it can result in parents spending time in jail.
However, Levy says children need to take responsibility for their actions in middle school, it's more equitable to take care of them now, "Why spend millions of dollar later on as the whole course of ne person's life when we can spend a day right now maybe making a difference in these kids life if they're truant from school early on."
By Stacey Samuel, WCJB TV-20 News
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