City plans to fight truancy Mentoring, parental assistance will be utilized

November 14, 1992|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,Staff Writer

Baltimore School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey unveiled a plan yesterday to combat truancy that includes a public awareness campaign, a mentoring program for elementary school students and the hiring of up to 100 parents to become "attendance assistants" at schools plagued by high truancy rates.

About 20,000 city school students have been identified as chronic truants -- students who miss at least 36 days of school per year. The total includes about 2,600 elementary school students. On any given day, 13,000 students are absent from school, many unlawfully, according to city school officials.

"We have a big problem and we are working toward it," Dr. Amprey said yesterday during a news conference at Madison Square Elementary School in East Baltimore. "There is an indirect cost. As much as 80 percent of daytime crime is committed by juveniles -- students who are truant from school."

Some of the new initiatives include hiring social workers to provide attendance counseling to the parents of truant elementary and middle school students, mentoring programs for elementary school students and a truancy-drop out prevention counseling program for senior high school students.

The anti-truancy program is expected to cost $300,000 annually.

Attendance assistants will earn about $120 per month to identify elementary and middle school students who are chronically absent from school. The workers will monitor school attendance records and they will phone the parents of chronic truants to discuss the problem.

The attendance assistants will be hired from Project Independence, a state program that helps welfare recipients find jobs. The workers will receive $60 every other week in addition to bus tokens and child care while they are working in the truancy program, Dr. Amprey said.

So far, 25 attendance assistants -- some the parents of chronic truants -- have been hired to work in the program and the remaining 75 workers are expected to be hired by the end of the year, said Stuart Tabb, the school system's attendance chief.

Yesterday, Deborah Robinson, an attendance assistant at Madison Square, said she had heard "every excuse in the book" when talking to parents of chronic truants.

"I've known about a lot of kids who stay home unnecessarily," Ms. Robinson said. "A lot of parents are on drugs. A lot of parents get their children to baby sit (instead of going to school), there is abuse and on and on. They always have an excuse."

Madison Square Principal Doretha Galloway said she believes parents will heed another parent more readily than they would a lecture from a school official.

"Some parents are reluctant to speak to people from a school. If they are talking to another parent, it eases their minds," Ms. Galloway said. "They are more open to them and they feel that that parent has empathy for them."

Last month, the school system launched its anti-truancy effort by summoning parents and students to District and Juvenile Court hearings that feature a lecture from a judge about mandatory school attendance. The first hearing was Oct. 8 and drew a standing-room-only-crowd of 150 parents and students.

Children are required by state law to attend school through age 16 or parents face penalties of up to 10 days in jail or fines of up to $50 for each day of unlawful absence.

Because of budget shortfalls, the city employs no truant officers. Most parents ignore the school system's letters and phone calls and, with a lack of enforcement by the overburdened system, their children end up dropping out of school.

The 1990 census figures show that of the 20 largest U.S. cities, Baltimore has the highest percentage of 16 to 19 year old residents who have not completed high school -- 22.8 percent.

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