Councilman calls MSCS ‘a dumpster fire,’ demands answers on high truancy rates

Published: Apr. 11, 2023 at 8:57 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Representatives from Memphis City Council addressed Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) Tuesday regarding security measures and what they say is a lack of accountability from the district when it comes to kids skipping school.

“Over the last few months, with all of the turnover and the investigations, it’s a bit of a dumpster fire,” Councilman Chase Carlisle told Action News 5 on Monday.

In August of 2022, Action News 5 requested truancy numbers from MSCS.

Six months later, in February 2023, the numbers for 2021-2022 were staggering — 40,000 MSCS students were truant in the district.

Carlisle said it feels like the district has given up on truancy, at this point.

But the district says they haven’t waved the white flag yet.

Carolyn Jackson, interim security chief at MSCS, told the council that due to the public forum of the meeting, they couldn’t get into specifics about safety protocols.

However, she did say that the principal of each school monitors who is entering and exiting the school.

The district also cited teachers taking roll as a curtail. Finally, MSCS said they send robocalls to the homes of students who miss school as a way they fight absenteeism.

Carlisle was not convinced, asking, “Why are we allowing children to leave school and only notifying a parent through a text message?”

The district said they are doing the best they can.

“We need the community to support us,” Jackson told the council. “If you see students that are truant, call our hotline and report it, because we can’t be eyes and ears everywhere.”

MSCS called for help from the Memphis Police Department while speaking at Tuesday’s council, something Memphis Police Chief CJ Davis responded to in her own address.

“It’s not our practice to say we’re not going to help,” Davis said regarding the already overworked force she’s charging.

“But because we care about our students, and we know a 10-year-old who’s not in school needs to have some type of oversight,” Davis added.

“Ultimately they’re pointing the finger at the Memphis Police Department because they can’t track students,” Carlise said. “Most schools should have better oversight on their own students.”

MSCS told Memphis City Council they need more money for technology, like security cameras and a better system for alerting parents.

Carlisle said he wants to see how MSCS has already spent the money they were already awarded from state and federal funds before he’s ready to sign off on giving them anything.

“They got $500 million dollars in ARPA funding,” Carlise said. “I know we have deferred maintenance costs and water systems that need to be replaced, but where is that $500 million?”

It’s unclear where exactly the district spent those American Rescue Plan Act dollars, and MSCS didn’t immediately respond when Action News 5 reached out on Tuesday.

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