Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elementary School Truancy Is a Shocking New Trend

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elementary School Truancy Is a Shocking New Trend

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

A while back, when I would see youths strolling around the neighborhood in the middle of a school day, I'd ask them why they weren't in school.

One said that he was grown and no longer in school. That he just looked young. Another mumbled something about being suspended. Two others simply shrugged -- and sped up their stride to avoid my gaze or any more questions.

Another wanted to know if I was the police.

That response told me a lot. Mainly, it spoke to me about how much times had changed; about how kids fear the police more than the wrath of their mother or father when it comes to skipping school. But these days, when it comes to truancy in Duval County, law enforcement now must strike fear into parents to force them to send their children to school.

The State Attorney's Office is increasingly going after parents of truants because thousands of kids are missing school. But what shocks me the most is that, unlike the teenagers I questioned, nearly half of the 14,000 kids who are missing more than 21 days of school each year are in elementary school. Grades 1 through 5.

Children.

Children who are at the age of innocence, not the age of incorrigibility.

This worries me.

It worries me because it is an indicator of how irresponsible parenting, combined with all the social and economic pressures that come with rearing children these days, is poised to cough up a generation of kids who won't get the chance to succeed in school. When that happens, they'll then find themselves too far behind to catch up.

They'll grow up to become teenagers who care only about whether they're caught by the police for skipping school -- and not that the future will catch them unprepared. Or worse, they'll grow up to be criminals.

That's a horrible fate to befall children who, for the most part, tend to be enthusiastic about school during the early years. The reasons elementary children become truants have little to do with them not wanting to go -- and everything to do with the parent not being up to sending them.

"We hear every excuse in the book," said Chief Assistant State Attorney Jay Plotkin. …

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