December 22, 2006
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer
A couple of months into Hartford's new school truancy program, police detectives have met with more than 70 families about chronic absences, and officers have picked up about a dozen students on the streets and taken them to school.
One student picked up by police was arrested for possession of drugs.
"Truancy is a first sign of trouble. It is a gateway to crime," Police Chief Daryl K. Roberts said Thursday as he released the figures during a press conference at Fox Middle School.
Statistics released by Superintendent of Schools Steven J. Adamowski show that on any given day 1,600 of the district's 24,000 students - nearly 7 percent - are absent. Ninth-graders - many of them at crossroads academically and socially - last year accounted for more than 30 percent of total absentees on any given day.
Last school year, 284 students were absent 80 or more days. After 15 days of unexcused absences, students risk losing credit for the year.
Student attendance is one of the most serious barriers the district faces in improving achievement, Adamowski said. Adults are not supposed to allow students to skip school and run the streets with impunity, he said.
Roberts, who became the city's police chief in July, initiated the program to find children who should be in school. He has assigned two detectives - one in the North End, the other in the South End - to seek out children who are chronically absent and to investigate the reasons for their truancy.
Patrol officers throughout the city also were told to pick up children they see on the streets and bring them to school. But the majority of students that police encounter on the streets are out of school because they have been suspended, Roberts said.
The state Department of Children and Families is collaborating with the police department to provide services to families when detectives determine that chronically truant students need help.
Sometimes students stay home from school because bullies are tormenting them, Roberts said. In those cases, police are working with education officials to help students feel safe in school.
The St. Paul Travelers Connecticut Foundation gave the police department a $150,000 grant to assist with the truancy program. Roberts said he will use the money to provide incentives for children to go to school, such as field trips for those with good attendance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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