Tulsa City Council Considers Special Truancy Court

Wednesday, October 24th 2018, 4:13 pm
By: Ashley Izbicki

Tulsa city councilors heard more about a controversial ordinance intended to improve student truancy.

They discussed the final version of truancy ordinance changes which would primarily create a special services court to address the issues causing kids to miss school.

The original version included heavier fines and jail time, but that’s changed.

Jenks and Union Public Schools say they are in favor of the ordinance.

Supporters say the current state statute already imposes either fines or jail time, but this ordinance doesn’t list jail time.  It introduces a therapeutic court, instead, which offers families social services to address the reason why their kids keep missing school.

“We need to do everything we can to bring that dropout rate so these kids and these families can have a better economic opportunity going forward,” said Truancy Task Force member Mike Brose.

9/24/2018 Related Story: Tulsa City Council Considering New Ways Of Handling Truancy

“Truancy is something that should be dealt with in the school system, at the end of the day,” said Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper.  “I believe that we should look to other successful programs throughout this country that have proven successes.”

Councilor Karen Gilbert said Tulsa Public Schools, which was part of the task force, does not support the court effort.  They believe it disproportionately targets minorities and low-income families.

Union representatives said the punitive portion of the state law which allows jail time but is rarely used, is not effective. They are working on city measures to figure out how to help the problem.

Gilbert said families who go through what’s essentially a counseling situation have all fees dismissed.  She said the whole goal is to avoid the state's punitive system by addressing issues and solving problems before it gets there.

Tulsa Public Schools, which did not attend the most recent meeting, delivered a letter to council members (shown below).  TPS said more than one out of every three African American and Native American students are chronically absent.

The district said that African-American students are 25 percent more likely to be chronically absent.  The chronic absenteeism rate for economically disadvantaged students is 31 percent, compared to 17 percent for their non-disadvantaged peers, TPS states.  They are asking the council to put the ordinance on hold and take further time to work with school districts, community organizations and other key stakeholders.

After an hour of discussion, the committee decided to discuss the truancy ordinance further in two weeks.