City schools step up efforts to curb truancy problems

Calverton Middle chosen for pilot program involving officers picking up pupils

April 29, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., Mayor Martin O'Malley and city school administrators are working to create a stepped-up effort to return truant children to school.

Starting Monday, the city will begin a pilot program at Calverton Middle School on the west side in which a school police officer will drive a van around the neighborhood near the school, picking up truant pupils and returning them to the school, according to city officials.

At the school, the children will be evaluated by social workers to determine if they have problems that can be addressed, said Deputy Mayor Jeanne Hitchcock.

Calverton was selected for extra attention because it has one of the highest truancy rates in the city, averaging 25 percent on most days, Hitchcock said.

If the monthlong program works, the city hopes to expand it in the fall to pick up truant students citywide, said Harris.

The students would be brought not just to schools, but to city recreation centers, where social workers could talk to them, evaluate their problems and call their parents, Harris said.

The concept is not new, but the dedication of school police officers to the cause of picking up truants would mark an increased effort, Harris said.

Harris, O'Malley and school officials started working with police on developing the plan last year, when Harris suggested that Baltimore follow the example of a similar program in Arizona.

In that program, youths violating curfew are brought by police to recreation centers and libraries.

"The idea is to get the kids off the street, hopefully into a positive environment," Harris said.

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