EBR officials’ goal: Get kids in school
With an eye toward quelling a long-term social ill in East Baton Rouge Parish, authorities scoured the area Tuesday and Wednesday for the parents and guardians of truant children, issuing misdemeanor summonses to more than 90 of them in an effort to get their children back in school.
“The kids need to be in school and if it takes this to get people’s attention, then that’s what we’ll do,” said Roxson Welch, executive director of the Family and Youth Service Center in Baton Rouge. “At this point, people know these kids need to be in school. It’s the law.”
The mission of the truancy center is to identify truant youths and provide them and their families with services to prevent additional unexcused absences.
The roundup, which officials began planning about a month ago, was aimed at the top 150 to 200 worst offenders in the parish, Welch said.
Law enforcement conducts small roundups throughout the year but saves the worst offenders for the major roundups, she said.
Authorities with the Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office served misdemeanor summonses for improper supervision of a minor to the parents and guardians of truant students from the East Baton Rouge Parish school system, Recovery School District and some charter schools.
The total number of summonses issued had not been tallied as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.
Welch said not all the forms had been accounted for and she said she believes some law enforcement spent the evening tracking down the hard-to-reach people.
Officials went after parents and guardians whose children had more than 10 unexcused absences this school year. Several children had as many as 40 unexcused absences in this school year, Welch said.
Parish school officials reach out to the families of students with high absentee rates a handful of times before they collaborate with law enforcement.
The families are supposed to receive a phone call from the school if their child misses one day unexcused, followed by a letter when the absent days total five, according to the school system’s truancy protocol.
After being issued the summonses, the parents and guardians are required to call or visit the truancy center in the next 72 hours to work with center officials on getting their children in school.
Welch said parents and guardians were calling all day Wednesday to set up appointments, even some who said they knew authorities were looking for them but had not been served the summons yet.
If they fail to call or if they are not found during the roundup, an arrest warrant for that person is issued, Welch said.
“The goal is to not prosecute anyone for any of these offenses, but to find out the reasons for why the kids are not in school and to have the kids get back in school and learn,” District Attorney Hillar Moore III said.
His office, along with truancy center officials, city police, sheriff’s deputies and other agencies meet regularly to discuss truancy issues and plan for roundups like this one.
Ever since the opening of the truancy center in the fall 2012, parish and city leaders have ramped up the effort to provide assistance to chronically absent schoolchildren, noting the connection that absenteeism has with juvenile crime and dropout rates.
“All you have to do is pull up the background of people who are in Parish Prison or who are in Angola and it will tell you,” Welch said. “The children who are truant have a much higher chance of not having any other option.”
This roundup comes more than three months after authorities issued misdemeanor summonses to 99 parents and guardians. Before that, the last major roundup occurred in 2008 when 82 children were arrested for not being in school during school hours.
Every person who received a summons during the previous roundup has worked with the truancy center to get their children back in school, Welch said.
Those people who were not found during December’s roundup were added to the list this time around, she said.
Moore said he hopes to meet with every parent or guardian issued a summons to learn what he and other officials need to do to get the children back in school. He said he met with families following December’s roundup and wants similar success with the families this time around.
“This is about an entire community making the children of the community important, and that’s what happened here,” Welch said. “This is an absolute success and the reason is they are actually calling in and coming in.”