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DeKalb truancy proposal could be shelved

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

DeKALB – Blowback from residents has DeKalb city officials considering how to proceed with a proposed truancy ordinance.

The proposal would allow any DeKalb police officer to detain any person that they believe could be skipping school and fine or take them into custody after confirming with the school district. It was drafted by city staff with input from DeKalb School District 428, but received harsh backlash from parents of home-schooled children when it was brought before the DeKalb City Council for the first time last week.

The council voted unanimously to postpone any action on the proposal until Sept. 23, but now staff are considering dropping it completely.

“The city is working through the proposed truancy ordinance with the school district and determining how best to proceed, or whether to proceed, with the ordinance,” DeKalb city attorney Dean Frieders said in an email. “It was carefully drafted to address both public school and private school children ... but we are mindful of the public response and want to ensure that any ordinance we proceed with is acceptable and well understood.”

Parents expressed several concerns with the proposal, but were most concerned with a section that allows DeKalb police to detain children while they sought to determine if they were truant. Others said that state truancy laws were sufficient.

“State law provides for a truancy officer acting on behalf of the school district to take certain steps to enforce truancy laws,” said Jeffrey Lewis, a Sycamore lawyer and home-school parent. “The first and most important [step] is notifying parents before a child is found culpable. The city ordinance leaves out that step.”

The proposal included fines of $25 for first-time offenders, $100 for the second offense and $500 thereafter, as well as penalties for parents who allow their children to play hooky.

District 428 has two Student Resource Officers who are tasked with helping to fight truancy, but DeKalb High School Principal Tamra Ropeter advocated for a city truancy ordinance that one of the officers had brought forward.

Ropeter, who previously worked as an assistant principal in Woodstock District 200, had a positive experience with Woodstock’s city truancy ordinance.

“The whole objective is to keep kids in school,” Ropeter said. “The attendance rate was very high [in Woodstock], and I think the ordinance was a factor in that.”

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