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Schools cut truancy by taking parents to court

Conn. city will expand program

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Associated Press / September 15, 2008
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WATERBURY, Conn. - Waterbury officials are expanding a program that requires the parents of chronically truant public school students to appear before a probate judge.

A pilot program at two elementary schools during the last school year cut unexcused absences dramatically, said Probate Court Judge Thomas Brunnock.

Brunnock saw the parents of 87 students from the Walsh and Chase elementary schools. Under the program, he had the power to order a variety of remedies for the truancy, including extra tutoring, parenting classes, counseling, and drug rehabilitation. Parents who do not comply with his orders can have their guardianship challenged in court.

The students' absences dropped from a combined 1,072 before the program started in January to just 87 during the remainder of the school year, Brunnock said. The district allows 18 absences during a school year.

The judge said he found several causes for chronic truancy, including transportation problems, mental health issues, and parents who just didn't care. The biggest number of cases involved children who were kept home because of health issues, especially asthma, he said.

In those cases, the judge and his clerk worked with school staff to connect parents with health resources.

The schools also offered extra help, starting what has become a popular after-school tutoring program for children in the program.

"We all know you don't want a judge mad at you," said Robert Armstrong, whose two sons, Jamar, 7, and Robert Jr., 9, were in danger of repeating grades after a string of unexcused absences.

"He made me more aware of my kids' education and school," Armstrong told the Republican-American newspaper. "It's like a wake-up call."

Two more schools will join the program in January.

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