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Gary launches truancy court to improve school attendance

Updated: June 8, 2012 8:09AM



GARY — Truancy in Gary schools isn’t a new problem, but officials here believe they have a solution that will keep more students in class.

A special Gary City Court will begin in earnest this fall, bringing parents into a program designed to help them and their children.

Those who fail face jail time and fines.

Police Cmdr. Kerry Rice said parents will be held accountable, but can expect support from the court, police, the school system and a variety of agencies in the city.

The results should not just improve attendance records, but reduce daytime juvenile crime and ensure more students graduate from high school.

“Education is the cornerstone of any community,” Rice said last week. An educated community strengthens the work force and provides a consumer base for local businesses, he said.

Gary City Court Judge Deidre Monroe said Gary school attendance records reflect “some disturbing statistics.”

Rice noted, “About 40 percent of students are truant at one point. It’s a very big problem.”

Police responding to burglaries have arrested suspects who are students still wearing their school uniforms.

State law identifies students with nine unexcused absences as truant.

Gary lawyer Inga Lewis-Shannon proposed the truancy court to police administrators who were eager to lend assistance.

After a series of meetings, organizers decided to launch the pilot this year with volunteer parents who will not be criminally charged.

In the fall, parents of truants will be charged, then referred to the special court. Monroe said parents will have to admit to elements of the crime, but can avoid jail, probation and other penalties by participating in the program.

Rice said summer school programs, mental health experts, tutors and others will be available to work with students and parents.

“We want to get them back to the graduation process,” he explained.

The court will focus on middle schools, where “they really start to fall off,” Rice said.

Gary’s charter schools will also participate.

“We’ll start calculating on the first day of school,” Rice said.

Monroe estimated the truancy court will be in full operation by October.



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