This Mayor’s Office kicked off a major new anti-truancy campaign this week. More than 40 percent of New York’s High schools students missing around a month of school Bloomberg enlisted celebrities in the fight against truancy. And new research shoes that chronic absenteeism leaves children less likely to graduate and more likely to end up in jail. But the city is trying to reframe the way it takes on the problem.
New York City public school students: If you’ve missed more than ten days of school, starting this week, this could be your wake up call…
“Morning it’s me! Magic Johnson here. I won five NBA championships and Olympic gold medal, so I’m calling the shots today! Get up out of bed,” it says.
It’s just Magic. In New York State going to school is the law if your under 17. But these robo calls are part of the effort Mayors Office is moving away from criminalizing truancy. Instead reaching out to students and the parents with mentors and increased social services to get them back to school.
School’s just let out, and on the corner of Amsterdam and 135th street teenagers are enjoying the first flirt of spring weather. Among them is Raphael Pena, a tall 18 year old with curly butterscotch colored hair. He dropped out last year—and before that, he missed a lot of school.
“Most of the time when I tried to go to school, I show my id,” said Pena. “They be, ‘oh nah you cant go in,’ so I give them a hassle back so then I just don’t go to school.”
Pena says that missing school—and not feeling wanted there as a result—was what led directly to his dropping out.
So the city has been working with the VERA institute of justice to shine a new light on the old issue of truancy… and to introduce some new approaches to the problem.
Vera’s Jessica Gunderson: ”They’ve put in mentoring… this success mentoring is making improvements in the elementary and some of the middle schools. But again when you get to high school its gonna have to be more intensive, more systematic. Re-thinking about why teenagers go to school.”
And Gunderson says, rethinking why they don’t. Vera, and the city, are beginning to turn away from more punitive responses to truancy.
“You gonna come get her now?” said Wanda Matos. “‘Cause school safety gonna take her back right now… yes yes they are getting ready to take her back right now.
Its mid morning Thursday and Wanda Matos is on the phone with the mother the father and the grandmother of a girl picked up in the lobby of an apartment building. She’s in high-school but she was supposed to be in 2nd period was supposed to be in second period. But now she’s here, in a basement room waiting to be taken back to school.
Gunderson says this is how its always been. “ This happens in NYC, they pick ‘em up on the metro, they pick ‘em up on the street,” says Gunderson. “They take ‘em to truancy centers, and the truancy centers are typically staffed by police. And it’s a law enforcement based response.”
And, in New York, it’s not just students who are criminalized. When children don’t show up to school, parents can be punished too. It’s called educational neglect, and it can lead to anything — from a warning from the DA to having your child taken away by childrens services.
Gunderson says it makes sense to hold parents responsible when you are talking about younger children.
“But the idea that a 16-year-old, the mother or guardian can force the kid to go to school or that the threats at that age are going to compel people to respond… There’s just no evidence of it,” says Gunderson.
What there is evidence of, Gunderson says, is that a more school based approach to this problem can help reverse it. And she says, making people aware of just how prevalant chronic absenteeism, is a great start.
“When you look at NYC, you are looking at 40 percent of all high shcoolers missing over a month of school, which is just huge,” said Gunderson.