Data reveals growing number of teenagers skipping school, mayor says

Published: Sep. 6, 2022 at 11:08 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland is talking tough on truancy.

In his weekly newsletter, the mayor revealed startling data about the number of children ditching class in the Memphis-Shelby County School (MSCS) system.

Mayor Strickland says the growing number of teenagers who skip school and eventually drop out can be directly linked to the increase in juvenile crime in Memphis and Shelby County.

He called out MSCS for terminating its relationship with the Shelby County District Attorney’s office several years ago, ending the district’s participation in the truancy program.

“I do understand the mayor’s frustration with the situation as it stands now,” said Michelle McKissack, chairwoman of the MSCS School Board, “You have to go back and see the history of our interaction with the DA’s office. It wasn’t always exactly positive for our families.”

Chairwoman McKissack says the numbers don’t tell the whole story about truancy in the district.

Here’s the data Mayor Strickland released on students who had 10 or more unexcused absences:

  • 2018-2019 7,045 students
  • 2019-2020 6,529 students
  • 2020-2021 9,987 students

The Mayor said during this time, the school system was no longer involved with the DA’s truancy program and did not refer any cases to Juvenile Court.

And in the 2021-22 school year, Mayor Strickland said 28 percent of all students missed 10 percent or more of all school days.

”This is unacceptable,” said Strickland, “Parents must be held accountable for their children’s attendance at school. I hope the new superintendent will use all legal means to hold parents and children accountable. The large increase in juvenile crime is certainly directly impacted by more teens out of school without supervision, education and career plans.”

Chairwoman McKissack said school systems nationwide struggled with truancy during COVID.

Now with DA Steve Mulroy taking office after defeating former DA Amy Weirich, McKissack said new collaborations might be possible.

”I would hope that the conversations would start up again,” she said, “and to actually listen to the concerns from the school district because we didn’t want to criminalize (this issue.) We need help. So, I’m personally looking forward to any sort of partnership between the DA’s office and the City of Memphis to help us. Because it has to be a community effort to address the problem.”

An MSCS spokesperson provided the following statement:

MSCS is disappointed that the Mayor’s Office did not review this information with us as it contains multiple inaccuracies. What is true is that as the number of charter schools has expanded, we have become a portfolio District that has given families more options in other MSCS schools.

During the pandemic, chronic absenteeism and truancy increased significantly nationwide. MSCS implements the state-mandated tiered intervention support model for students who are truant and works in cooperation with Juvenile Court in accordance with state law. We look forward to our continued partnership with the City of Memphis in addressing poverty, homelessness, housing and food insecurity, and other factors in our city which impact our families and schools.

When MSCS was asked to clarify what those inaccuracies are, the spokesperson replied:

We stand by our statement and the new Superintendent looks forward to reaching out to the Mayor to provide context and discuss potential strategies as we partner with agencies that assist our families and students.

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