MPS truancy prevention study gives report card

Shannon Caton discusses the truancy problem.
Shannon Caton discusses the truancy problem.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The report card is out on a pilot truancy intervention program the Helping Montgomery Families Initiative launched in 2009.

The program started after school leaders and some parents expressed concern over the alarming number of unexcused absences.

So, what's next?

"It's awful!" Montgomery resident Shannon Caton said. The rate of unexcused absences in the Montgomery Pubic Schools is alarming to her. "I live in a neighborhood where I see kids walking through the neighborhood at all times of the day," she explained.

During the 2010-2011 school year there were over 115,000 district-wide unexcused absences, a sharp increase from previous years. The mother of 10-year-old Kenni Murph, a student at Highland Avenue Elementary, says that's a serious problem.

"Whenever kids aren't in school, they're creating problems somewhere else," Caton believes.

"We know children not in school, could end up in court and I don't want to see that," Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks said. That's why she's touting the success of the truancy intervention program.  "This is the truest crime prevention I know," according to the DA.

Last year, Davis and ED Nixon Elementary schools and Bellingrath Middle were test sites. The results showed a 26 percent decrease in unexcused absences at Davis and a 36 percent drop at Nixon. Bellingrath saw a slight increase of almost three percent.

Since the program's implementation, over 600 attendance alert letters have been sent home and nearly 50 truancy affidavits have been filed on parents, students and guardians, many ending up in court.

"And I got sent a letter from her school saying your child has an unexcused absence. But she's out maybe three days a year. But I have a real issue with people not knowing where their kids are," Caton explained.

The next step for this program is to expand from three schools to eleven.

Funding is an issue with the expansion. Brooks says the city, county and the now the school board are pledging commitment to this program.  

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