Memphis mayor and MSCS district debate truancy numbers

Published: Sep. 19, 2022 at 10:31 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - After talking tough about truancy in his Sept. 2 weekly newsletter, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland recently met with Memphis-Shelby County Schools (MSCS) Interim Superintendent Toni Williams to discuss how to tackle students skipping school.

“Special thanks to Mayor Memphis,” she tweeted, “for accepting my invitation to build a more collaborative effort focused on building and maintaining a brighter future for the students of MSCS and the Memphis community.”

Two weeks ago, the mayor released data that he says shows dropping enrollment and ballooning truancy numbers within the district.

”Juvenile crime has gone up significantly,” he said, “and as we dig in on what’s going on, one of the things is there are more children out there on the streets.”

District leaders took exception to the numbers reported by the mayor, saying he had bad data.

”I just want to be clear,” said Shawn Page, chief of Academic Operations and Student Supports, “this notion that there is a decline in students or they’re breaking into houses, I think that is fallacious.”

Page provided one example:

Strickland reported 6,529 truant students in the 2019-2020 school year. Page says the actual number is 4,119.

After meeting with the interim superintendent last week, Strickland said, “While the data I was given first may not be the same as the accurate data they plan to give me, we agreed to work together to help resolve the challenge.”

Page also said enrollment in the district is actually up this school year.

“But what was not shared in the mayor’s update,” said Page, “was that the trend has shown as district-managed schools have decreased, we’ve had an increase in our charter school enrollment.”

Mayor Strickland also said MSCS made no truancy referrals to juvenile court in recent years.

MSCS said more than 400 children and their families were referred in 2021 and more than 300 cases have been submitted so far this year.

“We have parents that need support,” said Page, “and that is the goal of the state-mandated truancy law. And as our parents get support, we see children who do come to school regularly.”

“Bottom line is,” Strickland said, “I think they would even admit — we’ve got too many children not coming to class like they should, and parents are not being held accountable.”

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