Modern 'truant officers' urge kids back to school

In the 1970s, Medford School District had a truant officer. Now that I'm retired, I sometimes see students walking the streets of Medford with no apparent concern of being stopped. Some of these are home-schooled, but some are not. What does the school district do to try to corral these wayward ones?

— Dennis D., Medford

Oh, Dennis, "truant officer" is so last decade. "Attendance specialist" is the new, not-so-threatening name for a person who investigates the absences of free-range teenagers.

"We dropped the term 'truant' and just focused on attendance," said Doug Jantzi, Medford schools' secondary education director. "We're trying to be positive."

The Medford School District has a contract through the Education Service District for one full-time specialist to oversee attendance at North, South and Central Medford high schools, as well as Hedrick and McLoughlin middle schools.

"Being the largest school district, we keep one guy busy," said Jantzi.

Under Oregon's Compulsory Education laws, kids are required to attend school regularly until they are 18 years old or receive a diploma. To meet federal standards, a student must have a 92 percent attendance record.

The teachers and administration at each school handle flaky students and do what they can to entice the teens into regular attendance. But when the school has exhausted its processes, which include calls and letters home and meetings, the specialist steps in.

He or she writes letters, makes necessary phone calls to parents and guardians and makes home visits if necessary. The specialist also is authorized to write citations for $180 to parents for "failure to supervise" or to students, according to the local truancy ordinance, depending on who is to be held accountable. A student citation would require a court appearance.

As to the "wayward ones," it is not the specialist's job to corral roaming students and physically haul them back to school. It's also possible, Dennis, that some of the teenagers you're seeing are juniors or seniors who have part-day schedules or an empty period.

A closed campus was implemented for this school year for half of the Medford high school students, confining all freshman and sophomores to the campus during the school day. However, short of barbed wire or an electric fence, there is no guarantee kids will stay at school during the day.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.


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