Truancy message stresses correlation between dropouts & crime

Back-to-school events are in full swing in Montgomery as students gear up to return to class on Thursday.

Officials are seizing the opportunity to stress to parents the importance of getting their children to school each day, shedding light on the connection between poor attendance and local crime statistics.

Montgomery County District Attorney Daryl Bailey says there’s one common factor he sees in more than 90% of criminals his office prosecutes.

“School dropouts. They dropped out of school,” he said.

Bailey is speaking at back-to-school events across Montgomery in an effort to tackle truancy problems. On Tuesday, he visited ED Nixon and Seth Johnson Elementary. He believes reducing truancy is the first step to reducing crime. If kids are in the classroom, they’re not out getting involved in criminal activity and are less likely to enter the criminal justice system.

“Truancy is a growing problem that we see not only in Montgomery but across the nation and we are focused on keeping kids in school because there is a huge correlation between kids not in school and our crime rate,” he said.

Educators echoed the message, stressing the importance of attendance.

Alabama law requires all children between the ages of 6-and 17 to attend school regularly. A student is considered truant if they have seven days of unexcused absences and charges can be brought against their parents. A letter will be sent to parents after two unexcused absences.

“Attendance is a very big problem with students at the elementary level. Parents keep them out for a variety of reasons when they in fact should be able to come to school. I don’t think they realize the impact that not coming to school has on their academic progress. So I think hearing it from the district attorney made a difference with the parents that were here tonight,” said Ferlisa Dotson, principal of Seth Johnson Elementary.

Parents say extracurricular activities are also key in keeping kids out of trouble

We need to keep our kids in appropriate programs and to make sure that we have great after school programs that are keeping our kids busy and off the streets,” said Genesis Watts with the ED Nixon PTA. “Then they have less time to go out and do things that we consider non-positive.”

“The truth of the matter is that if our kids are in school and making good grades, then our crime rate will go down. I promise you,” Bailey added.

The District Attorney’s Office runs The Helping Montgomery Families Initiative to fight truancy.  Since it was established in 2008, the program has helped reduce the number of overall unexcused absences and suspensions and helped hundreds of families. It works with at-risk students and their families to identify the issues that could cause those students to miss school, and connect them with community services that can help.

The initiative has had several success stories over the years, including students who were suspended and then made the honor roll the next year after completing the program. Other struggling students went on to graduate and attend college.

“We want to work with the parents way before they get to that point and find out why the kids are missing school, why they have unexcused absences and work with the whole family unit to try to keep the kids in school and get to the root cause of the issues,” Bailey said. “It is so important that our kids are in school every time that they can be.”