With some opposition, KC passes anti-truancy measure

05/03/2012 5:00 AM

05/16/2014 6:27 PM

Rather than have Kansas City police pick up kids they think might be skipping school, city prosecutors will issue tickets to parents of chronic truants based on attendance records provided by the schools.

That was a compromise ordinance passed in a 10-3 vote Thursday by the Kansas City Council, ending months of controversy.

In its original form, opponents feared the ordinance would be an unfair infringement on the rights of home school students and other children with permission to be out in public during school hours. They had crowded the council chamber on several occasions.

The compromise, which was announced last week, had been expected to face little or no opposition.

However, council members Michael Brooks, Jermaine Reed and Melba Curls voted against the ordinance, which had been requested by Kansas City Public Schools. Before passing an ordinance compelling school attendance, they said, the council should wait to see if the district follows through on its promise to do a better job keeping kids in school.

The district did away with truancy officers because of budget concerns a couple of years ago. The administration recently changed course and is trying to re-establish an anti-truancy effort as well as an alternative school.

But the main proponent of the measure, Councilman Scott Wagner, said the district needs the city’s help now. More than 50 kids were picked up in a truancy sweep last fall and, because they faced no real penalty for being out of school, those kids were back on the street the next day.

“To do nothing means to perpetuate what’s going on,” he said.

Mayor Sly James, likewise, said the city has an obligation to act rather than wait to see if the district anti-truancy effort is effective.

The ordinance will not take effect until next school year. Parents could face fines of up to $500, but they would initially get warnings to get their children in school. To avoid fines and court costs, parents also could attend parenting classes and receive counseling, Councilman John Sharp said.

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