In Covington, Kentucky, a new city ordinance, enacted January 2, has police taking school truancy into their own hands. If kids are caught skipping school they could now be arrested on misdemeanor charges. If their parents are complicit in the hooky-playing, they too could be hauled into court. It’s all part of a new crackdown led by Ken Kippenbrock, Director of Pupil Personnel for the Covington school district.
“If you have a recurring problem with a student this is the way to get this family in front of the judge,” Kippenbrock tells Shine. “We’re trying to increase the likelihood that child is going to graduate; we know the cost to society when child drops out.”
This week, local police were given a cheat sheet with times when kids should be in school (essentially 8am to 3pm) along with early dismissals, and procedures to follow when encountering a kid outside of school during those hours. If they come across a suspected skipper, officers have the option to bring the child back to school, return them to their parents’ home, or if the child isn’t allowed back in the school, and their parents can’t be reached, booking them.
“Most officers I know are likely to give a warning at first, but if they have a child repeatedly deliberately violating school rules they can use their discretion,” says Kippenbrock.
It’s an extreme measure for extreme times. Last year, the district, which oversees 4,000 students from kindergarten through twelfth grade, clocked about 13,500 unexcused absences. Because state funding is based on attendance, Kippenbrock says the district lost about $500,000 last year because of the poor record. He hopes that enforcing a city-wide “daytime curfew” will force both kids and parents to take skipping school more seriously.
But can it actually work? “It’s hard to know,” Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, tells Shine. “This approach has been tried at different times and at different parts of the country and it’s generally been abandoned, because parents raise a stink and politicians back down.”
Covington, however, is following in the footsteps of a neighboring county. A similar ordinance in nearby Newport has been in effect for over 10 years, with positive results according to Kippenbrock. “When you drive around Newport you do not see kids on the streets on a school day and officers say it’s had a positive impact on reducing daytime crime,” says Kippenbrock.
As to whether Newport’s ordinance has improved graduation rates, Kippenbrock admits, “it’s hard to say.”
What Kippenbrock has found is a surprising measure of support for the Covington ordinance throughout the community. The only backlash has come from the homeschooling community with concerns those kids will be penalized for having different hours than regular public school students. As a result, Covington police are requesting homeschooled kids get a note from their parents when they’re out during school hours.
It’s far from a perfect system, but says Jennings, it’s born out of a larger disconnect between schools and parents. “Schools are being held accountable for test scores and graduation and yet the kids aren’t showing up and the parents don’t seem to care as much,” Jennings tells Shine. “Fining parents and arresting kids are negative ways of getting the message across that school is important, but what kids are doing out of school when they’re not under supervision is damaging too.”
In Belen, New Mexico, a similar policy is being enacted this week. Their plan is to prosecute parents with repeatedly truant kids. Under the new rules, moms and dads could face fines or even jail time if they don’t improve their kids’ attendance records. “The safest place for kids is at school and most parents want their kids to succeed, but a lot of times life kind of gets in the way,” according to Richard Romero, Belen’s truancy expert.
In Covington, Kentucky, where almost 90 percent of students live at or below the federal poverty level, life has more demands for the average student. “What I found over the years is kids being kept home to babysit their siblings when their parents go to work,” says Kippenbrock. When parents can’t afford day care and can’t afford to miss work, the problem falls to the student and eventually the school.