Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007

Truancy bill offers no real solutions

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We are writing to address SB113 Juvenile Law - Truancy Reduction Pilot Program in Prince George’s County PG 303-07. In addition, Del. Doyle L. Niemann (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier, a former school board member, has taken the lead as the co-sponsor of a companion bill on the House side HB 506. Both of these bills would require the worst truancy offenders to wear electronic monitoring devices such as ankle bracelets. The bills also have the support of County Executive Jack Johnson and State’s Attorney Glenn Ivey.

How is it that our law enforcement is supporting this as an alternative? What’s in it for them to violate our civil rights? Are we now resorting to running our schools like prisons and treating our children like criminals?

We are angry about this bill, but most of all, we are angry that others in the state Senate and House, our county executive and state’s attorney would allow such a measure given the history of our people and tracking devices, such as shackles around our ancestors’ ankles or bells heaved into the spines of our ancestors. And for what? To track their whereabouts and keep them contained for economic advantages? Sounds harsh? Well, it is meant to be, because this is being done without merit or sound reasoning.

We challenge them and others in the position of developing policy to look at the root causes of truancy. Are we asking too much of those elected officials who support this bill to conduct sound research that takes into account human and social conditions before enacting such policies with the ramifications of dehumanizing and criminalizing our youth?

Yes, research, because had research been done, those who sponsor and support this bill would know [that] according to research provided by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquent Programs, the root causes of truancy fall into four categories: Family factors, school factors, economic influences and student variables.

None of these categories indicate deviant or criminal tendencies. So to have our children wear a tracking device indicates [those who support the bill] believe our children in a predominantly black school system, with black males heavily contributing to the truancy population, have the propensity for violence or other criminal behavior.

The truancy problem is an urban or inner city problem as a result of failed education policies. It begs the question, why we do not understand that our kids know what they need and what they want? Why are we punishing them for a system that has failed? Why are we not including the truancy offenders at the table to address the problem and solutions? Why are we not engaging our parents, churches, community, social workers and nonprofits to help us solve this problem? We have stripped our schools of vocational training, our county lacks a performing arts center and we do not have state-of-the-art technology training centers. In addition, our schools are overcrowded and many of our children are becoming frustrated when they cannot get the extra help needed to stay on pace. We have failed to provide positive alternatives to the truancy problem.

So the next question becomes, is this about educating our children or about ensuring a revenue stream? Are we worried about losing state and federal funds when children don’t come to school? Do we not see that this will be an additional expense and burden for our legal system? What is the real agenda?

A real agenda would be to provide resolutions to an issue that seems to be so perplexing to our politicians. It is imperative that Prince George’s County proposes an attendance and truancy policy to incorporate the following:

*Parent⁄guardian and family involvement.

*Incentives and consequences for good, improved and poor attendance.

*Collaboration among schools, courts, law enforcement agencies, social service providers, businesses, and faith-based and youth-serving agencies.

*Effective record keeping in tracking student attendance and truancy rates.

*Establishment of a community standard that values school attendance.

*Support or consequences provided to the students and parents in a timely manner.

In conclusion, we are not going to allow such a bill to be marketed in our communities. We encourage all of you to contact your state senators, delegates, county executive and state’s attorney and say ‘‘absolutely not.”

Terence Lewis of Upper Marlboro and Sandy Pruitt of Mitchellville, People for Change in Prince George’s County