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Tackling truancy 

The Rochester school district is gearing up to launch a comprehensive approach to combat truancy this fall. The approach would include the district, the City of Rochester, county social services, the Rochester Police Department, and Family Court, says Rochester Mayor Tom Richards.

The details of the program are being kept under wraps, but Richards says the approach has shown success in at least one other school district in New York State.

"Our hope is that we can transport it here without a hell of a lot of redesign work," he says.

Chronic truancy is a serious problem for the Rochester school district. Thousands of students are out of school without explanation every day, with the most absences occurring in kindergarten.

That's why the new program will initially focus on the elementary schools, Richards says. Truancy is obviously a problem at the secondary level as well, but to make a real cultural shift, you have to get to the children and the families early, he says.

"The feeling here — and there's a lot of research to support this — is you can predict on the basis of the behavior that develops in elementary school, the kind of behavior you're going to have in high school," Richards says. "And it's a heck of a lot easier to deal with it," he says, if you start in elementary school.

The new program will have three phases. The first is to improve the way the district records attendance, Richards says.

The second step is acting on that data.

"That's where we come in, the school district comes in, social services to some extent comes in," Richards says. "What do we do?"

The third step is enforcement, and that could mean using Family Court to compel parents to get their children to school.

"It's kind of a last resort, but as a parent, you're supposed to take your kid to school," he says. "That really would only be necessary if there was something about the family structure that was out of whack."

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