Some Spokane school officials think they’ve found a way to keep kids in school and out of trouble.
The plan: Hire police officers to look for students playing hooky. Take the truant students to a classroom, whether they want to go or not. Then have their parents pick them up.
So far, the Spokane Police Department is behind the idea. If the Spokane School Board approves of the proposed truancy center, the district would hire two off-duty police officers to enforce existing state law that requires kids to be in school.
“What better way to help kids in their future than to keep them in school?” said Pam Scott, an assistant principal at Lewis and Clark High School. “The bottom line is we care about kids.”
A truancy center in Spokane could be in operation this fall at Havermale Alternative Center at 1300 W. Knox if the proposal gets the school board’s approval. The board is expected to vote on the proposal in August.
A student who just graduated from Ferris High School said the truancy center might dissuade some from skipping class, especially those with “senior-itis.”
“I think it’s a good idea to have cops go out and look for kids,” Nancy Hunter said.
The center also could help fight crime in Spokane, if the experiences of Salt Lake City hold true here.
In a three-month period after the school district truancy program started in January 1994, some crimes decreased significantly in Salt Lake City.
Shoplifting dropped 31 percent, home break-ins decreased 34 percent and car stripping and car prowling dropped about 30 percent.
Those statistics inspired Spokane police to support a similar program here.
“I like the reduction in crimes,” Spokane police Lt. Glenn Winkey said. “If we can overnight reduce our burglary rate 30-some percent, any program is worthwhile.”
Spokane school officials also like the improvement in attendance that occurred after the Salt Lake truancy center opened.
“I think we’re going to be careful not to just measure success by crime statistics alone,” said Lindell Reason, the Spokane district’s coordinator of student services for secondary schools.
Here’s how the local truancy center would work:
Two police officers would search for the truant kids, pick them up and bring them to the center, where another security officer would check them in.
In addition to hiring two off-duty Spokane police officers, the district would need to hire a security officer and a clerical worker.
School officials are applying for grants, and hope some area businesses will donate money to the district for the project.
Scott, Reason and Lyn Erickson, an assistant principal at Havermale, learned of the center at a conference earlier this year. They got so enthused about the idea that they traveled to Salt Lake City for a day to see how the center worked. A Spokane police sergeant accompanied them.
They’ve been working on their own proposal since then, keeping district administrators informed.
“The truancy law isn’t presently enforced because we have no place to take them,” Winkey said.
State law says that it’s the responsibility of parents and the students themselves to be in school. Schools have the responsibility to notify parents when children don’t show up.
Under the Spokane proposal, youths could be handcuffed if they’re uncooperative with police, Winkey said. The students also would be searched for weapons, even though they technically wouldn’t be under arrest, Winkey said.
That’s standard procedure for anyone placed in a patrol car, he said.
Not all students are certain that the center will work.
Virginia Coble, who’s starting her first year at Ferris next school year, said she’s not sure how much success the center would have.
“It seems like there would be too many places to look,” she said.
District officials have many details to work through, including what they’ll do when parents can’t or won’t pick up their children. Another unanswered question is what to do with runaways and students skipping school from other districts.
But school officials are optimistic the community will support an idea that promotes kids staying in school.
“I think that’s what parents want,” Reason said. “I think that’s what the business community wants.”