Seeking Solution to Truancy Problem

A mother is cited for neglect. Her child missed more than 20 days of school in less than three months.

That child was then placed with Project Harmony.

The case highlights the long-term problem of school truancy.

But some innovative solutions are in place aimed at helping to make sure that children don't miss out on their education.

Cold weather and distance, illness, transportation issues, and working parents form just a few reasons for excessive truancy.

Westside Schools Administrator Kent Kingston said its more than a child not wanting to go to school.

"The majority of the cases we deal with there's some sort of pressure and outside influence on the student that's causing this to happen and I don't think any one wants it to happen," he said. "I don't think the parents or the school but because of these factors, it happens."

Norris Middle School Principal Ruben Cano said last year, half of his students missed ten school days or more.

The school installed a system where children were rewarded for attending school - on time - for short intervals.

"It doesn't seem as daunting to a twelve or a thirteen year old to say hey, come to school three weeks in a row and we'll reward you," he said. "The nice thing is that at the same time like it may seen that we're bribing or enticing them to come to school every day, now they're in class, doing the work."

Cano said the truancy rate dropped dramatically.

The school's 60 chronic truants are paired with 30 staff members like teacher Pam Ruffin.

Transportation was why one student she works with didn't come to school,

Now, Ruffin provides a ride for the child.

"Our referral rate has gone down and I think its because a lot of the kids are feeling a connection that we really do care, we're not just here to teach them," she said.

Cano said each staff member has specific duties when dealing with truant children.

"Everyday they have to find that student and just say hi to them and say you know what we're just really happy that you came to school today, its good to see you," he said.

If the children they work with are not in school, they are instructed to call the home and ask if there are any problems keeping the child from coming to school.

It's a continuing education for educators as they try to combat this age-old problem.

Nebraska schools are required by law to contact the county attorney's office if a child misses 20 days or more of school.

Area judges are also involved in finding the solutions to truancy.

In extreme cases, a judge may come to a school and work with parents to develop a workable plan to get their children to school.

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