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Hernando County schools want to team up with authorities to catch truants

BROOKSVILLE — The experience is a familiar one to most of us.

It's a weekday, and you're shopping or driving or sitting on the front porch when you see them: school-aged children or teens.

You check the clock and then the question pops into your head: Shouldn't they be in school?

Now the school district wants to partner with the Hernando County Sheriff's Office, the business community and residents to identify students who are playing hooky and get them back to school.

Superintendent Bryan Blavatt recently met with Sheriff Al Nienhuis to pitch a program that would tie in a truancy hotline to the Sheriff's Office dispatch system so that patrol deputies could investigate and, ideally, return students to school.

"Where are the kids if they're not in school?" Blavatt said. "What are they doing?"

Definitely not learning and possibly committing a crime, Blavatt and Nienhuis said.

Blavatt, in fact, helped oversee a similar program in the early 1990s while serving as a court liaison for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school district in North Carolina. Juvenile crime rates and truancy rates both dropped as a result, he said.

Blavatt also plans to meet with Brooksville Police Chief George Turner. The goal is to have a program in place by the start of next school year, Blavatt said.

Nienhuis welcomed the idea, though he noted that the agreement would formalize much of what his agency already does, such as checking things out after someone calls about suspicious youngsters.

Asking deputies to return students to school is not "out of the realm of possibility," he said, but more pressing calls for service would have to come first. Student resource officers, who are familiar with students, would also play a critical role.

"It's really a win-win because oftentimes, crimes that occur during the day are done by juveniles who should be in school," Nienhuis said. "We want our kids to understand we care about them getting an education, and even if they don't at this young age, they'll appreciate it later."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or at (352) 848-1431.

Hernando County schools want to team up with authorities to catch truants 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 7:39pm]
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