Weighing the Need for Truancy Officers

A study sponsored the Mississippi Department of Education is recommending a reduction in the number of truant or school attendance officers in schools. It's a move which the study suggests could save the state of Mississippi as much as $3,000,000.

However, the reason for the proposal is not just financial. The study suggests that overall, with things such as rising dropout rates, the attendance officer system has been ineffective and costly.

Lauderdale County attendance officer Scott Rowland disagreed. He said one of the main problems is with the law.

"They can place the blame on anyone they want to, but I'm not a legislator. I cannot make the age 18. We've asked for them to up the age to 18 before they drop out," aid Rowland. "I'm not a legislator. An 11th grader can drop out of school at 17 right now."

Truancy or unexcused absences is just the tip of the iceberg. Attendance officers say some students don't attend school, because they don't have things such as running water at home, while many others don't and instead take part in criminal activity.

Thus, it expands the duties of attendance officers from just monitoring attendance, but also often taking on the duties of probation and even parole officers.

"Truancy is not the children going down to the lake fishing anymore," Rowland said. "Truancy is not everybody going to the mall and shopping anymore. Truancy is everybody going to somebody's house. Let's go over and smoke some pot. Let's go out and drink."

Last year Rowland said school attendance officers in Lauderdale County handled 10 percent of the state's truancy cases.

Meanwhile, on the state level, there's still no word on if, when, or where the cuts may be made.