DA: SCS will no longer work with district attorney’s office to fight truancy

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Shelby County School Board has reportedly ended its partnership with the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office on a truancy program that helped keep kids in school.

Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich said she unexpectedly received word from SCS recently that her office’s relationship with the schools would end.

The program had been working to combat truancy in Shelby County schools since 2007.

“It was something this office enjoyed doing, and it was something we built and something we were proud of,” Weirich said.

Weirich’s office needed an updated memorandum of understanding, an agreement between two parties, with the school district to continue their work.

“Then we got word the school board wasn’t going to update or approve the updated language, and the school system and administration was cutting ties and ending our partnership. It was a sad day for us,” Weirich said.

Weirich said their partnership had evolved into 30 schools. Her team helped pair students who are on track to miss school with mentors and offered rewards to students with good attendance.

Weirich said their services were free of charge, and they received donations from several organizations and businesses for bicycles and other prizes. They even recently partnered with the Grizzlies for more incentives.

She says the board only recently had to pay $15,000 for additional bicycles when they asked her to double her program from 15 to 30 schools.

Weirich’s team also offered resources to parents of truant children, instead of just charging them with a crime or sending their child to juvenile court.

“Sometimes kids aren’t going to school, because there are real-life struggles and real-life issues their families were dealing with. Our advocates were trying to intervene and get into the lives of those kids and their families at a point where it wasn’t a crisis,” she explained.

Weirich said the board had asked her to make some changes.

“We did that happily,” Weirich said. “One of the changes included instead of holding the parent intervention here at 201, they asked we hold it at the school headquarters. We made that change.”

Weirich say she never thought they would just end the partnership, especially without an explanation.

“My meeting was not with the school board. It was with the superintendent, who said the school board had not agreed to sign the MOU,” Weirich said. “He said he wasn’t going to push it any further, and he was going to sever the relationship.”

WREG asked Superintendent Joris Ray about it, but he directed us to his communications team.

SCS released a statement Thursday afternoon, saying in part:

While it was regrettable to end the arrangement between Shelby County Schools (SCS) and the District Attorney’s office, we were left with no choice, as there was no formal, memorialized agreement detailing the relationship. Further, as discussed the DA, while the program may have been aimed at reducing truancy in 28 SCS schools, it did not comply with Tennessee law. We will continue follow truancy laws and implement attendance initiatives in these 28 schools as we have done in all SCS schools.

Shelby County Schools

“There has to be a local education association program and intervention plan. The law requires there would be these interventions in place,” she said. “I guess the school board or school system is just going to take that on their own.”

WREG has also reached out to board members for comment.

Full statement from Shelby County Schools:

While it was regrettable to end the arrangement between Shelby County Schools (SCS) and the District Attorney’s office, we were left with no choice, as there was no formal, memorialized agreement detailing the relationship. Further, as discussed the DA, while the program may have been aimed at reducing truancy in 28 SCS schools, it did not comply with Tennessee law. We will continue follow truancy laws and implement attendance initiatives in these 28 schools as we have done in ALL SCS schools.

SCS believes that having students and their parents attend a meeting at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center was counterintuitive. The law requires implementation of a tiered intervention plan before a student can be referred to juvenile court. We believe all efforts to intervene should be exhausted well before a student is forced to interact with the criminal justice system.

The sole responsibility and authority for the enforcement of the compulsory attendance laws belongs to the local board of education and its designated employees and officers. The Shelby County Board of Education, through its Superintendent, intend to carry out this obligation with fidelity.

As to the bicycle giveaway, we are committed to ensuring that SCS students receive the bicycles the DA promised. We certainly do not want any of our students disappointed. Similar to our partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies, we’re certain we can work together to reward students living in Shelby County on such a praise worthy accomplishment.

We look forward to forming a relationship that is palatable between both parties and serves the best for students.

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