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Chicago Public Schools Truancy a Serious Problem, State Task Force Says

By Wendell Hutson | April 29, 2014 9:27am
 A state task force held a public meeting Monday in Chatham to discuss ways to combat truancy at Chicago Public Schools.
Truancy in Chicago
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CHATHAM — A Monday public meeting by a state task force concluded that more needs to be done to reduce truancy at Chicago Public Schools.

And among the reasons some residents gave for why truancy remains a problem for CPS were homelessness and a lack of transportation. Additionally, one adolescent expert estimated that 20,000 CPS students do not have a stable place to live.

And many students with a truancy problem are disabled.

"The review of the data shows that during the 2010-11 school year 42 percent of kindergarten through eighth grade students with a disability or impairment missed four weeks of school or more compared to 12 percent of students without a disability or impairment," said Antoinette Taylor, chairwoman of the 42-member Truancy in Chicago Public Schools Task Force.

She added that “there are many contributing factors to the current state of truancy and excessive absenteeism in Chicago Public Schools which the task force will address by recommending changes to current policy, procedures and practices to the General Assembly.”

State Sen. Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), a task force member, said it would not hurt to also have "more black males in the classroom." She said because most of the students at CPS are black and Hispanic, providing role models minority students could identify with could encourage students to come to school more.

John Paul Jones, president of the nonprofit Sustainable Englewood Initiatives, said part of the problem was schools that weren't within walking distance of students' homes, leading them to skip class more.

"CPS needs to bring back truancy officers," Jones said. "Student attendance affects a school's funding. When that happens it causes a ripple effect."

Traci Watson 26, said she had three daughters at Martha Ruggles Elementary School in Chatham even though she lives in Park Manor.

"I used to live in Chatham but unexpectedly I had to move. When it is warm outside we walk to school but when it is cold or raining we catch the bus," she said. "My kids have missed a few days here and there because I did not have the money to catch the bus and I refuse to make them walk in bad weather."

Truancy at CPS has dropped dramatically since 2012, according to Zakieh Mohammed, senior manager of Attendance and Truancy for CPS.

Not including prekindergarten students, Mohammed said the current truancy rate is 16.4 percent. For the 2012-13 school year it was 26.1 percent and for the 2011-12 school year it was 24.3 percent.

And even with the decline about 100 people from parents to community stakeholders attended the meeting at Urban Partnership Bank, 7801 S. State St., and testified before the task force about truancy and how best to deal with it.

Leslie Morris has two honor-roll children attending a charter school in Auburn Gresham. But due to excessive tardiness she said her children might have to repeat their grades. For six years Morris lived in Kenwood and recently she moved to West Pullman to be closer to her children's school.

"I admit that my kids were late a lot but that's because we lived far away and we had to catch two buses and a train," Morris said. "I moved closer to their school and now I have a car. But my kids are in jeopardy of being held back because they have been tardy more than 30 days."

Morris said for every three tardies it equals one absence at her children's school.

Ald. Latasha Thomas (17th), whose ward includes Auburn Gresham and who is chairman of the City Council's Education Committee, told parents that truancy could be reduced if more services were available at CPS for students.

"At most alternative schools students have social service and other services available to help them with their problems," Thomas said. "If every school had more services available it would make a big difference."

Phillip Jackson, executive director of nonprofit The Black Star Project, said truancy was not a problem with the children but with the adults.

"We need to teach parents how to better manage their homes to ensure that children are not being exposed to a negative environment," Jackson said. "We have to also make schools a place where children want to go and a place where parents want to send their children."

Jackson added that based on his research 32,000 CPS students have missed at least four weeks of school this year, and that crime goes up when children are not at school and not supervised.

A CPS spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

The Rev. Johnny Banks Sr., executive director of the nonprofit A Knock At Midnight, agreed with Jackson that getting parents more involved in their children's school would help.

"Through my experience parents feel they have no responsibility to get their kids to school," Banks said. "If school is not important to parents it won't be important to their children."

The next public meeting the task force will host from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. May 12 at the James R. Thompson Center. The task force, which was formed in 2013, will make its recommendations about truancy to the Illinois General Assembly on July 31, Taylor said.

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