CrimeTracker 10: Program Cracks Down On Kids Skipping School

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If you're school-age and out on the streets instead of in the classroom during school hours, you may find yourself in the back of a police cruiser.

The officer will either take you back to your school or to the truancy center at the YMCA on Long Street.

“Parents are not happy. We're usually contacting them at work, explaining that you need to come pick-up your son at the YMCA downtown,” said Don Heard.

Don Heard runs the truancy program at the YMCA. He makes a couple thousand of those phone calls every school year to parents.

“A lot of students are suspended from school and haven't told their parents. There are a significant number of kids who are committing crimes during the day, selling drugs, smoking weed,” added Heard.

Getting the kids off the streets can keep them away from trouble. Besides Columbus, there are kids from suburban districts who have been caught playing hooky.

They'll spend no idle time at the center. They get on-the-spot counseling, a conversation about the importance of being in school and help with whatever school work they were supposed to be doing but didn't.

“Twenty-eight percent of students that come to the center are repeaters.”

Some kids may spend up to a week at the truancy center if they're serving an in-school suspension. Buses transport them there and back from their home school.

Heard refuses to call them “at-risk kids.” He says the dangers present in every community today, makes a lot of kids "at-risk."

“We didn't have to deal with cellphones and texting and sexting and internet. All we had to work with was the bad guy down the street that was giving us negative influence and our parents were telling us just to stay away from him, and most of the time that worked.”

Students truant from Columbus schools are also required to attend a three-hour evening workshop with their parents.

“And the parents leave with an understanding that if my kid gets picked up the third time, there could be some court intervention,” added Heard.

Columbus City Council just approved $125,000 to fund the program for the next school year. The city is also working to open another truancy center on the west side to compliment the program at the Y, and another location in east Columbus.