Police, school target parents in truancy fight

May 20, 1998|By Alec Klein | Alec Klein,SUN STAFF

In an attempt to eradicate the affliction of truancy in Southeast Baltimore, police and officials at Canton Middle School announced a plan of attack last night that they believe will get real results -- punish the parents.

"I think it's good," said a mischievous 12-year-old Ashley Mayeski, stifling giggles. The seventh-grader has missed about 19 days of school this year.

In what is believed to be the first Baltimore partnership between a school and police to fight truancy, the crackdown begins today. Police will begin knocking on residents' doors this morning if their child is not in school and has 40 or more unexplained absences this year.

It's called a "truancy abatement program." "We want the kids to be in school," said police Lt. Carmine R. Baratta Jr. of the Southeastern District.

The program has another motive. Police have linked several truants to neighborhood crimes, including petty theft, larceny, vandalism and graffiti. More than 100 juveniles are arrested in an average month in the Southeastern District, police say.

If children are not in school, "We're going to come after the parent," police Maj. Timothy J. Longo Sr. told a somber crowd of more than 20 parents and a dozen pupils at last night's hourlong meeting in the school library.

Under city ordinances, if parents "knowingly permit" their child to miss school, or "insufficiently control" their child's attendance, they face fines ranging from $10 to $100 in District Court, or up to 10 days in jail. The program at Canton Middle School, for children in sixth through eighth grades, is considering another alternative for wayward parents -- community service in school.

Nothing less than the child's future is at stake, school officials told parents.

"The issue is preventing your child from living a miserable life," said Principal Craig E. Spilman. He urged parents to mobilize against a corner store, where he said pupils buy candy and cigarettes and arrive at school late.

About two months ago, the principal approached authorities to help reduce truancy. Spilman said he had tried "everything else."

"I think it's a good idea," Michelle Jarrett said of the program. Her 12-year-old son, Fred, has missed about 17 days of school this year, in part because of injuries he suffered in a fight, she said.

Not all parents agreed, however. "This is bull," said a mother who declined to be identified.

Said another mother about her daughter's attendance record, "She didn't miss 25 days."

But the overwhelming concern of parents was how they were to know whether their child showed up at school on time -- or at all.

School official Louis Williams suggested: "Stay in class with him for an entire day, and maybe, maybe, that's the beginning of it."

Pub Date: 5/20/98

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