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Editorial - Truth for the truants

September 11, 1997

The sword of justice will fall more swiftly on Franklin County, Pa., truants if the county gets a $100,000 grant to deal with delinquent youths. But after a look at what the money will buy, we wonder if the program will really get to the heart of the problem.

County officials said that if the grant is obtained from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, it would be used to hire a community-service coordinator to recruit employers, local governments and organization to provide work for truants sentenced to community service for not attending school despite their parents' best efforts to get them there.

The coordinator would serve as a communication link between schools, the justice system and employers and students and their families, officials say. And part of the grant money would hire case managers to work with students and parents.

The idea, according to Larry Pentz, a district justice who works with the Waynesboro Area School District, is to try a number of different approaches, share information and decide which ones work best.

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That sounds good, but while the punishment aspect of community service may keep young truants off the street, it doesn't deliver the essential message - that those who don't complete school and/or other training programs will remain at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Why not introduce today's 15-year-old truants to someone who dropped out five years ago? Let that 20-year-old explain what it's like to apply for a job without a high-school diploma, and how tough it is to pay the rent or make a car payment when you're working for the minimum wage. More than any lecture from a guidance counselor, the stark example of what happens to those who make bad choices just might scare the truant into going back to school or entering some alternative training program.

The community service/punishment approach has a function in this system - getting the truant's attention. But we believe the lesson truants must learn is that when they drop out or attend school sporadically, they're only punishing themselves.

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