New city center hopes to curb truancy

Multi-agency effort aims to aid students, cut crime

November 05, 2003|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore school system truancy center, which is part of a comprehensive crackdown on students skipping school and involves several city agencies, opened yesterday in East Baltimore.

Students who are taken to the new Baltimore Truancy Assessment Center at 400 N. Caroline St. will be held there while their parents are called.

Social workers will find out why the students aren't in school and provide services necessary to get them back there. Criminal justice workers will screen the students for outstanding arrest warrants.

"For me, this is the perfect example of real interagency collaboration on behalf of the young people in Baltimore city," said interim schools chief Bonnie S. Copeland. "All of us have a stake in this."

Statistics illustrate the city's acute truancy problem. More than 25 percent of the students in Baltimore's schools were absent 20 days or more last year.

The truancy center is the brainchild of City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who said he was responding to repeated community complaints that something be done about "kids hanging out on the street, not going to school."

"We heard you," Harris said yesterday, at the center's opening.

Today will be the first day that truant students are taken to the center.

Officials said truancy is a more serious issue today than it used to be when youths might take advantage of a warm spring day to play hooky and go fishing.

"During the daytime, 60 percent of the crime is committed by juveniles," said the center's Executive Director Joe Sacco, who is a retired city police officer and former Maryland chief constable.

"If we can get the kids back in school where they belong, we feel there'll be a significant cut in crime."

In addition to school police officers and the district's Office of Guidance and Pupil Services, the truancy center will be staffed with members of the Department of Juvenile Services, the Housing Authority, the Department of Social Services, the Social Security Administration and the Office of Employment Development.

School board Chairwoman Patricia L. Welch said that all children want to be in school learning and if they're consistently not showing up for school, it is the job of truancy center workers to find out why.

"There is always [a reason]. There is," Welch said. "Whether [the students] acknowledge it, whether they even know it, there is a reason why they opt out."

Workers at the center will evaluate whether the children need psychological counseling, extra tutoring, medical care, even a place to sleep.

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