Nashville students who miss school and wind up in truancy court must utter an unfamiliar word before finding out their fate: “Here.” The Tennessean says that roll call is the first order of business in Referee J. Michael O’Neil’s courtroom. O’Neil was appointed by Juvenile Court to hear truancy cases. He spends two hours lecturing lax students in his booming voice about the importance of being in school. The lesson ends with parents paying a new $70 charge for court costs and kids ordered back to class. About 1,000 attendance cases were heard last school year.
Fridays are reserved for the worst violators–students with five or more unexcused absences. They’ve been warned by the school. They’ve been visited by attendance officers. But they still don’t go to class. O’Neil hopes he’ll be able to force kids back to class by giving them a good talking to. Eighty-five percent of the time, his “scared straight” tactics work: The children return to school, not to court. One teen who appeared before O’Neil explained, “I didn’t feel like being in class.” Answered the judge: “I don’t blame you. I don’t want to be here listening to kids say why they didn’t go to school all day.”