District Attorney’s Office Fighting Major Truancy Problem

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(Memphis) Right now, thousands of children in Shelby County are not in school, even though class started over a week ago.

Last year, more than 13,000 Shelby County students were considered truant, meaning they were not actively going to school or enrolled in a home school program.

A Shelby County student is technically considered truant after one unexcused absence, but after five days, their parents will start getting letters in the mail explaining if they don’t send their child back to school, they could face criminal charges.

After 15 days, the parent and student are reported to juvenile court.

School Board Member Kenneth Whalum said he believes this is shameful.

“It’s a sin and a shame that somewhere in this city right now there are countless children who are not in school because their parents for some reason do not think it’s important enough to get them here,” said Whalum.

In fact, the schools don’t typically reach their full enrollment numbers until after Labor Day.

“The parents in Memphis, Tenn., many of them for some reason feel no need to register their kids for school until school starts,” said Whalum.

There are five truancy centers throughout the county, and people called ‘attendance teachers’ go out into homes to check and see why a child is not in schools.

Despite the staggering truancy numbers, last year’s stats area actually down drastically from the 23,000 reports two years ago.

The school district says it’s because of partnerships like the one they have with the district attorney’s office.

The DA has truancy officers in 13 schools who monitor attendance go after offenders.

“Our office gets involved by requesting the parent come to court and we advise the parent of the law and offer the child, if they’re in middle school, our mentoring program,” said Harold Collins with the DA’s Office.

Taxpayers pay more than $200,000 a year for the DA’s Mentoring program, and Collins says funding keeps them from expanding the mentor opportunities to other schools.

Allowing a child to be truant is a crime and a parent could face child neglect charges and nearly a year in jail.