Let’s Change How We Treat Truancy

Below is a guest post by Roy Kramka. You will read about Roy’s struggle in high school and how the district did not try to help along the way. Luckily, Roy ended up enrolling back in MNPS and graduating. Could his story have been different if interventions were in place?

The bill discussed below would create a progressive truancy intervention program for students who are on the verge of being referred to local authorities for truancy. These interventions would decrease the amount of referrals to the juvenile courts. Could we solve this issue if we had a uniform procedure in place? Here’s what Roy thinks:

I’d like to draw your attention to Senate Bill 196 / House Bill 483 of the Tennessee General Assembly. This bill is designed to create a progressive truancy intervention program that seeks to address the root cause of truancy. Currently, truancy cases in Tennessee are handled by the juvenile court system, which is very good at punitively addressing absenteeism, but very poor at rehabilitation. This bill should have minimal fiscal impact (and could conceivably save money), but more importantly, can mean the difference between sending a kid to jail vs sending a kid back to the classroom with the support they need to succeed.

This is personally meaningful to me because I struggled in high school, skipping the last four or five weeks of my junior year (at Hillsboro High) and dropping out in the Fall semester of my senior year (at Hume Fogg). While there were no legal consequences to my absenteeism for myself, or my family, there was also little, if any effort by Metro Public Schools to determine why I stopped attending classes or intervene when I dropped out. I would later be diagnosed with a learning disability, a process that indicated I was only writing at an 8th grade level while trying to complete honors and AP course work as a senior in high school.

I don’t know how I could have helped myself before I started skipping school. There simply wasn’t a seed of thought in my brain that I had a learning disability. I had no idea that I could tell my teachers that my struggles with school were so painful and great that it was preferable to simply walk away from the dominant social and intellectual structure in my life to avoid said pain. My truancy was humiliating. There was no joy in dropping out. But at 17 and 18, I was incapable of the introspection and self-advocacy required to rescue myself and we shouldn’t expect such introspection or self-advocacy from any other 17 or 18 year old kids.

This bill won’t solve all the problems with the ways we educate our children, but it’s a step forward. Further, it’s an example of the way local politics are a powerful tool in shaping our communities. There are four branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, and the People. And at the local level, we are most powerful. While we call our representatives in Washington, only to have our pleas fall on the deaf ears of their assistants, our local representatives are waiting for us to call.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

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