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At 80, truant officer knows all the tricks

February 26, 2001

At 80, truant officer knows all the tricks



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


GREENCASTLE, Pa. - If Winifred Adams has learned one thing in her 80 years, it's how to spot a phony.

A truant officer for the Greencastle-Antrim School District, it's her job to see that students make it to school every day and arrive on time, or have a signed excuse from their parent.

"I can always tell a forgery," said Adams, who was honored with a day-long birthday party in the high school Monday. She's been a district truant officer for 21 years.

Every high school student who comes in late has to stop by Adams' office and hand her a signed excuse. If they don't have one they become what Adams calls an "illegal." Too many illegals and they start showing up on report cards, she said.

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Most of her work involves students who don't show up for school.

"If they're out for three days or more they need a note from the doctor," Adams said.

Three days of absence without an excuse can prompt Adams to call a student's home unless the parents have called in to explain the reason for the absence. Parents who ignore the three-day rule can face trouble with the law, Adams said.

Pennsylvania's truancy laws are directed first at parents. Parents of students who are habitually absent are subject to heavy fines through the local District Justice's office, Adams said.

Part of her job is to write citations against parents who allow children to be truant. The fine is $50 for each day a student is out of class with an unexcused absence, said Ronald Powers, dean of students for grades 11 and 12.

Powers said the law also allows Adams, as a sworn truant officer, to enter a home and force a student to come to school.

"Winnie is the only one who can do that. By law I can't do it and neither can the principal. That doesn't happen as much anymore," he said. "For one thing she's 80 years old."

These days, Adams writes up citations against parents, about eight in an average month, and takes them to District Justice Shirley Shatzer in Greencastle for prosecution.

In most cases, Shatzer said, parents are found not guilty. "When parents do everything they can to get their children to school and they don't go, I don't find the parents guilty," she said.

In such cases, Adams cites the students who go before Shatzer. Penalties against students include fines, community service or suspension of a student's driver's license.

In cases of habitual truancy, students can be sent to the Franklin County Community Service and Truancy Prevention Program in Chambersburg, Pa., Shatzer said.

"That happens a lot when they refuse to do community service," Shatzer said

Another of Adams's duties is to call in substitute teachers, usually between 5:30 a.m. and 6:15 a.m. each day. She arrives at school at 7 a.m. from the beef cattle farm outside of Greencastle where she lives with her husband, Charles.

She takes attendance and checks on tardy students before shifting over to the middle school next door to take attendance there. Back home at night it's another hour lining up substitute teachers to fill in for the next day's classes.

Adams said she heard about the truancy job from a friend 21 years ago. "I thought I'd like it so I applied."

At first she wore a uniform consisting of a white hat, blazer and badge. "I just wear whatever I want now. Everybody knows who I am," she said.

"I still have the energy so I'm going to keep doing this until I get tired," she said. "I like the students and they like me."

Jesse Riexinger, 18, sees Adams regularly. "I see her quite a bit," he said. "I'm a senior and I miss a lot of days. But I like her. She's a nice lady."

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