The Baltimore Truancy Assessment Center, part of the city school police department and the only program of its kind in the state, works to track down chronic truants in a school system where an estimated 4,500 students – more than 5 percent of the total enrolled – are absent each day without a valid excuse, the Baltimore Sun reports. Truancy, a problem often seen as the precursor to crime and other social ills, has gained attention in recent weeks as Maryland’s new first lady, Baltimore District Judge Catherine Curran O’Malley, made it her signature cause.
The truancy center costs $1.1 million a year to operate and is trying to get funding for a second location. The Sun describes the efforts of two retired city police officers to get truant kids back in school. They link families with the center’s in-house service providers, including counselors from the state departments of social and juvenile services and the city housing department. They also inform parents that they can face jail time for their children’s prolonged absences. When the center first opened, kids swept off the street during the school day were transported there for a service assessment while they waited for their parents to pick them up. Now, officers take the kids they round up on the street – 2,604 between October and December – back to school. They forward the students’ names to the truancy center, which pulls their attendance records. They often find students who are homeless, students who are home baby-sitting younger siblings, and students who are on the corners selling drugs, sometimes under orders from a parent.