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Truancy officers work to improve attendance at Detroit schools

Detroit interim superintendent makes attendance enforcement higher priority

DETROIT – Detroit schools can't raise test scores or educate students if the children don't show up for school. That's why Detroit's interim superintendent has made attendance enforcement a much higher priority.

Parent leaders, teachers and principals are trying to drive the massage home at school, but for chronically absent students, tougher enforcement and intervention are the only solutions.

DPSCD attendance agent Kirk Peterson isn't serving warrants, looking for drugs or tracking fugitives. He's just trying to get children to go to class.

Parents at one home said they kept their child out because they're expecting to move. At another home, a fifth-grader has missed eight days. The girl's mother said the father, a noncustodial parent, kidnapped her.

Peterson is one of nearly 50 agents covering 97 schools. They will seek out 60 chronically truant children on any given week.

Parents face a juvenile court summons and potential loss of welfare benefits. Problem-solving, not punishment, is the ultimate goal and is expected to fix 40 percent of these cases.

Kimberly Davis has seven children and faces huge obstacles, but thanks to Peterson, she's got emergency housing and the children are back in school.

The schools have requested more money for attendance officers, and if the Wayne County education millage passes, the extra revenue could be spent on attendance. But Peterson said he thinks the Legislature needs to give them truancy laws with sharper teeth.

Officers go door to door because, in many cases, homes don't have a working phone number. Officers said they also want to check on the welfare of the children. Getting simple contact information is a challenge.

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