Bibb truancy car to pick up students skipping school

The Bibb County school district has teamed up with community partners on a mission to reduce the number of students playing hooky.

A white Ford Taurus previously used by the district’s campus police was unveiled Monday afternoon for its new purpose: It will be driven by a truancy officer who will locate Bibb students with six or more days of unexcused absences from school, a limit state law defines as truancy.

So far during the current academic year, 256 students in Bibb schools have had 10 or more days of unexcused absences, according to a news release.

In the 2013-14 school year, 1,798 high school students missed 15 or more days of school.

Edward Judie, deputy superintendent of student affairs, said the program’s newly acquired car is a symbol to show the public the district is getting serious about truancy.

Though patterns of truancy have been consistent in Bibb schools, Judie said this program will take a more personal approach to handling the issue.

“What we’ve done in the past (is), we had almost a military-type operation. ... We actually identified kids throughout our student database and grabbed them back and put them in school without any thorough reception plan or plan of retaining them,” Judie said. “This time, we’re looking at it differently.”

Students identified by the new truancy program will be transported to a centralized location where their individual needs will be evaluated, Judie said.

“We’re going to personalize the data, know the kids, know what their needs are based on our assessments and then try to wrap services around them or direct them to those environments where we think growth and development could take place.”

Non-traditional learning environments such as evening school or career-oriented learning may be a better fit for some students, Judie said.

The new truancy program is a collaborative effort among Macon-Bibb County, the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, the district’s campus police, the Department of Juvenile Justice, and the Division of Family and Children Services.

Rhoda Batieste, former parent advocate and liaison for the district, is the truancy and transfer officer who will drive the truancy car.

“Now, when they see you actually have a truancy car, it’s a good community presence,” Batieste said. “We’re very excited about it.”

District campus police Chief Russell Bentley said truancy is a long-standing problem for the district.

“When I came to the district back in May 1990, that’s one of the first things I noticed,” Bentley said. “Whether it’s an excused absence or unexcused, we want our students in the classroom being taught by our highly qualified teachers.”

To contact writer Laura Corley, call 744-4382.