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2000-02-07 00:00:00 - NYPD Target: Truants - (edgarallanpoop@aol.com)

ruants beware: The next time you cut school a cop could call your home. With the number of New York City students caught playing hooky skyrocketing nearly 50% in the past five years, Mayor Giuliani is seeking $15 million to expand a program using police to crack down on truants. Officer sits at head of class as he waits for parents of truants to pick up their kids. The program piloted by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes uses cops not only to catch truants, but to call their parents and tell them to bring their children back to school. When Hynes opened the six — soon to be seven — truancy centers with the help of the Board of Education, staffers expected they would be flooded with complaints from parents outraged at getting calls from the police. The complaints never came, though. Parents interviewed said they didn't mind the calls and appreciated the staff's advice at coming up with ways to keep their children in school. Hynes' experiment works so well — half the truants' parents fetch them — that Giuliani has requested the extra funds to expand the program citywide. Last year, about 65,000 students were chronic truants, meaning they had missed 10 or more consecutive days of school without legitimate reason. Of those, 35,000 were high school students. Many teachers blame hard-core truancy on a longstanding societal problem: Families that are struggling with poverty or substance abuse are unable to keep their kids in school. Board officials attribute the rise to better recordkeeping and a stepped-up effort to catch truants, rather than a dramatic increase in the number of students cutting class. But teachers don't agree – they see more students cutting more often. Officer Elaine Mendez speaks to parent after picking up suspected truant. "Every year there were more," said Ricardo Brenes, a city teacher who said he was fired when he complained that schools did a horrible job of combatting truancy. "Kids cut class, or don't go to school for a couple of days, and you ask them why they cut and they answer, 'Why not? What's going to happen?'" The board is trying to fight the truancy problem on several fronts. This year, students are required to have more than good grades and good behavior; they also must attend classes a minimum of 90% of the school year to be eligible for promotion. The board also runs a truancy program of its own. In the 1994-95 school year, the board processed 15,684 truant students. Last year, 23,200 students were taken to those centers and those operated by Hynes' office – an increase of 47.9% citywide. But school staffers, not police officers, call absentee students processed at the Board of Ed facilities. The calls don't carry much punch. And few parents come to the board-run centers. At the board's W. 49th St. center in Manhattan, 44 parents have picked up their kids in eight months. With such a low turnout, most students are simply told to return to school — an honor system that teens say is a joke. "Why would I go back to school? I'm done for the day," said one 17-year-old after he was released from the midtown center at about 10:30 a.m. Parents, though, are taking Hynes' program, with its police presence, quite seriously. Many say the call from police is their first indication that their children have been cutting classes. "It is better to know," said parent Ahmed Hidaiscq, after learning his 15-year-old son, Talalcq, had been caught in a sweep. Hidais was furious to learn that Talal's sister had forged a note saying Talal had missed classes to mourn the death of his grandmother. In fact, Hidais said, Talal's grandmother is alive and well in Yemen. "What were you thinking?" an exasperated Hidais asked his son. "School is not something to play about." One parent happy with the district attorney's program, Allan Knight Jr. of Brooklyn, says the effort shows parents that "somebody is watching out for these kids and that they want parents involved." Summoned to one of the Hynes centers recently, a disgusted Knight demanded of his 16-year-old son, Allan Knight 3rd: "Tell me why you are here and not in school." Cops had picked up the lanky junior in a sweep not far from Lincoln High School in Brooklyn. The officers drove the student to a truancy center in Gravesend. They had him sit in silence while they called his father and told him to pick up his son and return him to school. The senior Knight was not amused. The son, eyes gazing toward the floor, told his father he had decided to leave school earlier that day, with a friend, because he'd developed a nosebleed. "What, your friend had a nosebleed, too?" the elder Knight asked. "I am taking your sorry self back to school. I am not having this." ------------------------------------------- "The flame of a candle burned upon the poop..." - Poe "The quarter-deck rose into an amply elevated poop" - Melville "I admit it, I have no dink..." - Chad Bryant