We recently posted on CFCC’s Facebook page a link to a Baltimore Sun front-page article about a new anti-truancy intervention in Baltimore City. Although the program itself is laudable and a wonderful complement to CFCC’s Truancy Court Program (TCP), operating in six Baltimore City Public Schools this year, what really caught our eye was the discussion in the Sun’s comments section. The majority of the writers put the blame for a child’s truancy on parents or schools. Some asked why parents should get additional resources simply to enable them to do their jobs.
Too often, the debate on truancy turns into a “blame game.” We know that school attendance statistics in Baltimore City are dismal. For example, more than one-quarter of Baltimore City’s public school students end up leaving school before high school graduation – which is not surprising given the 82 percent high school attendance rate. But it’s how we respond to the grim statistics that matters. Often that response focuses on blame and punishment, rather than on fully understanding the problem and providing support.
Assigning blame more often than not creates an adversarial and punitive climate that overshadows a deeper understanding of the reasons that underlie truant behavior. Does a student’s attendance improve if we incarcerate or fine her parents? Or if we demote or fire her teacher? Students in the vast majority of truancy cases need a caring adult, a mentor, and/or a person of authority to understand and help to address their problems. They need the school, their families, and the community to assist them to get back on track, whether it is in response to bullying, catching up with school work, homelessness, or any one of the myriad issues that confront our students on a daily basis.
Instead of pointing the finger of blame, let’s use community-based, therapeutic, and holistic programs like CFCC’s Truancy Court Program to make a deep and lasting change in the lives of our students.