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Report: Truancy a growing problem in county

SYCAMORE – The truancy rate for DeKalb County students likely will double after changes to state law are implemented that redefined chronic truants.

The number of unexcused absences before students are considered chronically truant will drop from 18 to nine.

Derek Avery, regional superintendent of education for DeKalb County, told the DeKalb County Board Health and Human Services Committee that truancy is a growing problem. His annual report showed there were 265 truants, 62 chronic truants and 288 potential dropouts in county schools last year.

The 265 truants, who entered the DeKalb County Truancy Intervention Program (DCTIP) after nine unexcused absences, would now be considered chronic truants under the new guidelines. A student becomes truant after five unexcused absences under the new state law.

More chronic truants means more students potentially entering the court system, which occurs if interventions are unable to solve the absence issues for chronic truants.

Students can be charged as minors and face fines up to $100 per missed day, be held in contempt of court for not attending class, or temporarily lose their driver’s license. Parents can be charged with a Class C misdemeanor and be fined $500 or face a month in jail.

Avery, who worked closely with truant students last year as the assistant regional superintendent of education, said his office does as much as it can with the money it receives for truancy programs, which decreased from $96,000 to roughly $86,000.

Of last year’s 62 chronic truants, Avery said about half were able to solve problems through social services and other interventions; the other half ended up in the court system.

“I never really understood what a problem this really is,” Avery said of leading the truancy program last year. “Some of these kids I see don’t have any other chance if they don’t get to school.”

Avery said there are serious discussions happening at the state and county level to address the growing problem. He said there could be another step of intervention before students enter the court system, a “truancy ticket” that would fine parents or more social service agencies involved in truancy hearings to identify more solutions.

Because truancy problems stem mostly from parents failing to get their children to school, it is important to reach out early and provide transportation or financial assistance when possible, Avery said.

“Some parents come in, and you really feel for them,” Avery said. “On the other hand, it’s your duty as a parent to make sure you get your kids to school.”

Paul Stoddard, D-DeKalb and chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, said it is alarming to see students miss school, but he is hopeful some of the ideas Avery said are being discussed could help solve the problem.

“I didn’t realize it started so young,” Stoddard said of the elementary students considered chronic truants. “We have to reach the parents.”

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