New group formed to curb truancy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 2, 2009

By David Vitrano

LAPLACE—Under the slogan “Every Child—At School—Every Day,” a group of St. John Civic organizations and prominent individuals, spearheaded by the St. John United Way, have joined forces and taken aim at truancy in the parish.

The goal of the alliance is to halve the parish’s truancy rate, which now stands at about 18 percent, according to Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor Perry DiCarlo, by 2019.

The reasons for targeting truancy are many, said St. John United Way Executive Director Dean Torres. “Truancy is a community issue,” he said.

According to Torres, dropouts make up 78 percent of Louisiana’s prison population and they, and truancy leads to a dearth of good employees in the workforce, which lowers the quality of life in a community.

Skipping school leads to falling behind in classes said Torres. “Falling behind is the key,” he said.

“If we don’t have our students in school, we can’t teach them,” added St. John Public Schools Superintendent Courtney Millet.

The parish has recently stepped up its efforts to combat truancy with the creation of an ordinance preventing shop owners from serving school-age children during school hours as well as a truancy hotline.

Additionally, Judge Mary Hotard Becnel, who took part in the press conference announcing the alliance, presides over the parish’s truancy court.

Torres said he recognizes the struggle will not be easy and he urged the community-at-large to aid in the effort.

“This is not going to be a quick fix,” he said but added, “It’s doable.”