SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — WREG Investigators found out about the thousands of children in Memphis who are not going to school, and whether it could be contributing to crime.
We asked Memphis Shelby County Schools for its truancy rate back in April. It took months to finally get it.
One hundred five thousand children attend MSCS, and according to district data, 45% of them were truant last school year. That means they had five or more unexcused absences.
The district also reported one out of four children are chronically absent. They’ve missed 10% of school, which is more than 18 days.
No one with the district agreed to an interview but did state that reasons for missing school can vary. It could be health, bullying, poor academic performance, poverty or homelessness.
When it comes to truancy, their specialists will work with kids and families and offer an array of “programs, tools and partnerships” to “encourage and emphasize attendance.”
MSCS provided this link for more information about the supports the district provides. It’s something district staff reiterated to the Memphis city council earlier this year when they were called to address truancy concerns.
“If you go back and watch the committee meeting, I was not very satisfied,” Councilman Chase Carlisle said.
Carlisle said he didn’t get real answers, like when children clock in and then skip class.
“And you’ve got children no longer showing up to school. There’s no accountability. You can’t find them. It’s hard to contact a parent or guardian, which goes to larger potential issues,” he said.
Carlisle said there has to be more collaboration to ensure the right systems are in place.
“I think often times, these large entities play in a sandbox, because each is worried about their own political reputation, or what they are seeing, or are we covering our own rear end,” he said.
Carlisle and other city leaders, including the mayor, believe truancy plays a role in the juvenile crime problem.
But Shelby County Juvenile Court Deputy Chief Administrative Officer Stephanie Hill told WREG it’s important “to think about the language we use.”
“Of course, there’s national data about correlation, and obviously, if you are not at a certain age and are not in school, the likelihood that you will end up in a thriving work environment becomes less likely,” she said.
But Hill also points to their data. Juvenile court reports 68% of juvenile crime happens after school and 75% typically happens between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m.
Juvenile court said their focus is understanding the barriers keeping kids from attending school, and parents have told them top responses have been diagnosed or undiagnosed medical reasons, transportation, registration issues and housing instability.
Juvenile court said it receives referrals directly from the school systems in two ways: petition for youth age 15 and over who are charged with truancy, and affidavits for parents of youth age 14 and under for parental education neglect.
In the 2022-2023 school year, juvenile court reported handling 354 truancy cases and 584 parental education neglect cases.
They also shared last year’s totals.
Juvenile court partnered with MSCS to hold a truancy clinic in August for parents to help problem solve and offering services and resources. Court staff said it resolved 38% of cases. They plan to hold more clinics in the future.