Targeting Truancy

by Melissa Brunner

Sometimes, a solution to a problem seems so common sense, you wonder why no one thought of it sooner. A partnership between USD 501 and the Topeka Police Department to target truants seems to fit the bill.

TPD and the district's School Police entered a contract this school year to get students skipping school back into the classroom. I had a chance to meet with the 501 Police Sgt. Chuck Nadeau and TPD Corp. Mike Cross this week, who are working the program. They tell me the problem in the past is that state law prevents restricts school police to enforcing only issues related to school and school activities. Because of that, the truancy officers were basically kept at the school doing the paperwork, with no enforcement efforts behind them. With the contract, a USD 501 officer and a TPD officer now patrol streets, knock on doors and talk to young people out on the streets during the school days. They've gone so far as to rouse a student out of bed when the parent asks for help, and they'll visit with families after school hours to figure out what is standing in the way of a child getting to class. 

The result? A 74 percent drop in the number of truancy affidavits from USD 501 to the Shawnee Co. District Attorney's office. This doesn't just put kids in class, it frees up officers who might have to respond to juveniles getting in trouble during the school day; it frees up prosecutors and judges who needed to address all those cases; and it lessens the chances that a young person skipping school will decide to occupy his or her time by breaking into or vandalizing your property.

I asked Nadeau and Cross what they would say to taxpayers who might hear of the program and ask, "Don't you have anything better to do than pick up kids who are skipping school?" They say it is worth the investment, not just because this keeps kids from getting into trouble and perhaps starting on a future of criminal activity, but also because getting kids to school better ensures they will become productive members of our community.

It seems so simple. A law - with a way to enforce it. What do you think?


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