Bunking school has always been costly to students in terms of their education and future prospects. Now in New Orleans, it can also directly impact their families’ wallets. 
This fall, public school officials and law enforcement agencies in New Orleans initiated a tougher policy for enforcing truancy laws. Thanks to a new law that took effect this year, families of students who are absent three times without a legitimate excuse can be fined between $50 and $250. Families can also be summoned to court. 
“The bottom line is children need to be in school, and we are going to hold both students and parents accountable for attendance,” says Paul Vallas, superintendent of the Recovery School District.
“A child has a constitutional right to a quality education,” he says. “When a parent is not ensuring that their child is in school, that parent is denying that constitutional right to their child.”
The RSD announced its new policy in tandem with Criminal Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s office, which is running the school’s truancy center at its Human Development Center in Mid-City. Created last year, the RSD Truancy Center is staffed by social workers who provide counseling on site and notify the student’s caregiver that the student has been picked up for truancy. These social workers also talk with the parents or caregivers about the state’s mandatory attendance law. 
Vallas established similar truancy centers when he was chief of schools in both Chicago and Philadelphia, his posts before taking on the newly reconfigured New Orleans public education system after Katrina.
Under the city’s truancy ordinance, police officers and school security officers can stop and pick up students they find on the streets between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. and bring them to the RSD Truancy Center. 
“You drive around the city, and you still see kids on street corners,” Vallas says. “We are talking with judges about being aggressive on enforcement.”
At the same time, the RSD has started a new program aimed at helping older students who have dropped out of school get back into the system and complete their education. The district recently opened its Excel High School on Poydras Street for students between the ages of 17 and 21 who have been out of school for at least one year. 
The public can report truant students in New Orleans anonymously by calling (877) 343-4773 or e-mailing safeinschool@rsdla.net. – I.M.