East Baton Rouge Parish clamps down on truancy

East Baton Rouge Parish clamps down on truancy
Published: Oct. 6, 2015 at 11:38 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2015 at 8:06 AM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - East Baton Rouge Parish families with students that have 10 days of unexcused absences at school so far this year will be receiving a warning letter, according to the truancy division of the Family and Youth Service Center.

The letter will require families to reach out to a police officer at the center, setting up an appointment to discuss ways to fix the student's attendance problems. Those parents who fail to meet with the officer could be issued a warrant and even sent to jail.

"If they're not in school, they're not going to be successful," said Jennie Ponder, the program director for the East Baton Rouge Parish Truancy Assessment Service Center.

Missing 10 days of school without an excuse makes it difficult for a student to advance to the next grade level. In Baton Rouge, some students have missed far more days, including more than 40 or 50.

"They depend upon it for the rest of their life, so it's a life sentence for a child who doesn't go to school," said Roxson Welch, the director of the Family and Youth Service Center.

Leaders at the center said they would rather catch the problem before the police have to get involved. They work with families and kids to form plans for how to get students back into the classroom. They sometimes even set up meetings with families at their schools.

Leaders emphasize that each case is unique and thus, must be treated separately.

"This is not a one size fits all. It's one size fits one. So, you've got to decide what that need is and address it," Welch added.

Since the center opened several years ago, the truancy rate in the parish has d ropped about 26 percent. But there is still work to do and often that means overcoming and battling issues that are out of the child's control.

"We have a lot of homelessness, high mobility rate change, those kinds of things," Ponder explained.

Though, in other cases, it is about intervening in the lives of students who may have fallen to the influence of drugs or group violence.

"This your job and what you're getting paid is skills that will serve you for the rest of your life," Ponder said.

The Family and Youth Service Center is located at 1120 Government Street. The services it provides are free and are not exclusively for students at public schools, but those at charter and private schools as well.

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