Citations for students or parents
On average about 40,000 Milwaukee Public School students have five or more unexcused absences during a semester. "We can no longer put up with this habitual truancy rate in MPS," said Ald. Zielinski, who has introduced several initiatives to meet the challenge. To get to those who aren't picked up by police, Ald. Zielinski wants to use school attendance records to identify truant students and mail citations to them or their parents.
His initiative, which would make it possible for schools to call police and share the names of truant students, is under consideration by Police Chief Nan Hegerty and MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos. Bay View would be one of two high schools to serve as pilot schools for the initiative.
"If the citation is not paid by the student, the parents would then be sent a citation," said Ald. Zielinski, "And I think that would result in a noticeable improvement in student attendance." Social workers would work with truant students and their families to discuss the importance of education and to determine the reasons the students decided to skip school.
Parental Responsibility Ordinance
Ald. Zielinski has fought to add enforcement powers to problems involving young people, and last year he co-sponsored the Common Council enacted "Parental Responsibility for Misconduct of Juveniles" ordinance. It requires parents to exercise proper supervision in order to reduce the number of ordinance violations by juveniles. "But after seven months I checked with the police department and found that no citations had been issued," said Ald. Zielinski. Police told the alderman they could not enforce the ordinance unless they had access to juvenile conviction records, and that required court approval.
City officials contacted the presiding judge of Children's Court who agreed police should have access to these records. The judge signed an order giving police officers the authority to inspect juvenile court records of those convicted on non-truancy-related ordinance violations, two times within a six-month period, or three or more times within a 12-month period.
"Most parents are doing their job," said Ald. Zielinski, "But many are not, and that leads to the kind of juvenile related problems that we see."
Nuisance warnings and fines for businesses
Ald. Zielinski is warning restaurants in the Bay View High School neighborhood about serving kids during school hours, saying that businesses could now be declared a "chronic nuisance." A measure sponsored by the alderman and approved on a 5-0 vote of the council's Public Safety Committee adds truancy to the list of chronic nuisances, such as barking dogs, litter or disorderly conduct that can result in fines for property owners.
Under his ordinance, if three students are cited in a one month period for truancy, the business owner would get a letter from police warning the business could be declared a nuisance property. The property owner would then have to develop a plan with the local police captain to correct the problem or they could be billed for the cost of future police calls. Businesses that receive multiple citations for serving students during school hours could receive fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for each violation.
Responding to complaints from neighbors, Ald. Zielinski and police showed up recently at the Bay View McDonald's restaurant looking for kids who should have been in class. Police had been encouraged by Ald. Zielinski to crack down even more than they had been doing on truants, and the alderman said their efforts have been successful. "There has been a noticeable drop in the number of students lingering in the neighborhoods around schools and a significant increase in the number of truancy citations," Ald. Zielinski said.