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Editorial - A place for truants

October 09, 1997

Except for the classroom material they miss, skipping school apparently doesn't have any serious consequences for Jefferson County truants. So say local school officials, who met with state lawmakers about their concerns this week. In our view, truants need more, not less, supervision than they're getting now.

The argument we're sure to hear is that there's no money to create any new facilities for juveniles who refuse to attend school. But the consequences of not dealing with this issue now will certainly include more people on the state's welfare rolls and in its prison population later.

Such a facility should be a boot-camp style school with secured perimeters, so that it doesn't experience the walkaway problems of the Franklin County, Pa. VisionQuest camp. Tuition would be required in lieu of the fines parents would pay for their offspring's lack of attendance, and the state and local governments would probably have to subsidize the facility as well.

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The curriculum should include a look at the jobs available to those without an education, and at the difference between the salary of a high school drop-out and someone who's gone on to higher education and/or advanced technical training. Some coaching about what employers will and won't accept in the way of workplace absences wouldn't be a bad idea, either.

As for the budget argument, we sympathize with every government's need to pay attention to financial considerations. But if this problem is viewed in isolation, possible cost savings in other areas may be overlooked.

Here's what we have in mind. If truants are not placed in a facility and allowed to run the streets, then it follows that some of those youngsters will decide to fill their idle days with criminal activity. Some others may use their unsupervised time to engage in sexual activities, passing along sexually transmitted diseases or conceiving children they are not mentally or financially able to handle.

In short, ignoring what truants do when they're not in school may be more costly than building a facility that would keep them occupied in more productive pursuits.

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