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Plan Under Consideration Would Change Custody Of Truant Students

September 1, 1988

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ Parents of students who are chronically truant could lose custody of their children under a plan being considered by school and court officials.

A proposal to have schools report the names of chronic truants to the courts, who would consider transferring custody to a grandparent or other relative, quickly drew fire from legal aid lawyers. Critics said it appeared to be an extreme way to deal with absenteeism and threatens student confidentiality.

Probate Judge John Keyes, who met last week with School Superintendent John Dow Jr. to discuss the proposal, said it could be undertaken legally. The idea is still in the planning stages, officials said.

Keyes said the idea grew out of a conversation he had in July with Dow about parents who abuse drugs and don’t send their children to school regularly.

Dow proposed a mechanism of reporting truancy to the courts, and having a probate judge inquire into the family situation, Keyes said.

Keyes said removing a child from parents’ custody would require much more than just showing he or she missed school. There would have to be other signs of neglect, he said.

Glenn Knierim, state administrator for probate courts, called the proposal an ″innovative approach to a serious problem.″

But lawyers who defend poor people were critical.

″You can’t assume parent neglect because the child is absent a lot,″ said Robin Murphy, a lawyer with New Haven Legal Assistance. ″It could be that the child is not in an appropriate educational program, or other children are picking on him or her in school, or there may be family problems at home.″

Shelley Geballe, supervising attorney at Yale Law School’s Legal Services Organization, said New Haven schools have repeatedly cited federal law prohibiting disclosure of student names when declining to comment on school problems.

″Volunteering student names in the absence of a subpoena from the court I find ironic, to say the least,″ she said.

Deputy Superintendent of Schools Rosa Quezada said the school system will work with lawyers to determine how to pass on information to the court while maintaining student confidentiality.

Any new policy would require school board approval, she said.

The absenteeism rate has remained stable in recent years, Quezada said, but school officials have been alarmed by figures showing that 35 percent of the fourth-graders who failed a state standardized test last year had excessive absenteeism.

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