Sunday, April 15, 2001

Truancy policy making strides

Officials see fewer repeat offenders

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

        TOLEDO, Ohio — Since the beginning of the school year, a new Ohio law has given schools and courts more power to track down truants.

        School officials around the state say they believe parents are taking notice that they can be fined up to $500 and forced to do community service if a child habitually skips school. Under the state's old law, the maximum penalty was $20.

        It's too early to learn from attendance statistics how muchdifference the law has made. The latest statewide figures are from 1999-2000, when 40,000 students per day were absent from class without an excuse — an average of 65 students per school district.

        “Most of these kids here have bigger problems,” said Steve Kiessling, director of a truancy program at the Connecting Point, where the Toledo boys were taken for counseling. “Some come in high, some are abused.”

        The threat of hauling a parent or student into court has cut down on repeat offenders in Dayton, said Roy Hollis, the district's truancy administrator.

        He has dealt with only about a dozen repeat truants this year compared with more than 100 at this time last year. Mr. Hollis said he thinks having a sheriff's officer show up on parent's doorstep with a court summons is why.

        “That doesn't happen too many times before the word gets out,” Mr. Hollis said, adding that he now hears from parents every day about how they can make sure their children are in school.

        Cincinnati's lead truancy officer, Oliver Spencer, spends each morning in juvenile court with students who are chronically absent.

        “A lot of times it's the same faces,” he said. “You know them when they're young and then through high school. It seems like they just don't get it.”

        Sometimes the court will impose a fine, usually $50. More often the cases are continued to give the students a chance to change their habits.

        “We're not interested in getting money out of people,” Officer Spencer said. “We just want the kids to come to school.”


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