Saturday, March 12, 2011

Truancy plan needs input ... by the Daily Herald

IN OUR VIEW

Posted: Sunday, March 6, 2011 12:02 am

Provo Municipal Council and Mayor John Curtis acted prudently in pulling back a proposed truancy ordinance for further work. This complex issue needs more community input, which is just what city leaders are trying to gather.

The original plan would have allowed police to issue misdemeanor citations to truant students. This would bring parents, the court system, and consequences into the situation, rather than just transporting the student back to school.

Officials say truancy is a growing problem. They cite a 100 percent increase in habitual truants just in the last five years. Moreover, they add, truancy is often a harbinger of gang activity.

The tougher truancy law is meant to flash bright warning signals before a teenagers gets in real trouble, especially gang activity. Juvenile justice authorities say such early intervention is key.

City officials add that daytime curfews have helped fight juvenile crime in other Utah cities, including Logan, Ogden and Murray.

Questions remain, however. Truancy is itself a minor infraction. Linking it to gang behavior still could be a case of looking at correlation, not causation.

Gang members, or wannabes, cut classes. Yet so do Ferris Buellers who otherwise wouldn't run afoul of the police or courts. Separating the wheat from the chaff is crucial here.

Nor is it clear to us that the court system is always the right cure. That is, sometimes a bad cough is a symptom of lung cancer. But you don't make everyone with a cough submit to surgery.

Also revealing was Tuesday's protest by 250-some parents and children, many of them home-schoolers. For our usually placid community, that was a significant event. They mostly were worried that such students, who aren't locked into school buildings from morning to mid-afternoon, will be hassled by police.

Moreover, this trend will only accelerate in the future and make it harder to even define truancy. In years to come, an increasing number students will be taught by their parents, or attend cyber schools, or graduate early. It will be harder and harder for police to differentiate between gang members who are cutting classes and other children who are getting an education yet avoiding the factory-like routine of many conventional schools. In short, making truancy a crime already may be obsolescent.

To look at all these issues in more depth, Provo City will be forming a truancy and youth crime task force with representatives from law enforcement, the justice system, public education, home-schoolers, charter schools and other interested parties. That's a nifty idea. Much more thought and much wider perspectives are still needed.

People are already signing up for it at provo.org. If you're interested in joining that group, or just providing input, go http://ProvoTruancy.notlong.com. We encourage interested residents to look into it.

Commendably, city government has been chewing on this issue very thoroughly. Our advice is to keep chewing.

Posted in Editorial, Opinion on Sunday, March 6, 2011 12:02 am Updated: 7:17 am. | Tags: Truancy, Gangs, Provo, Gang Task Force, Home Schoolers

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