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New truancy center to open for Shelby County Schools

The Shelby County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to open a new truancy center in a Memphis shopping mall to step up efforts to work with students who chronically miss school.

With 22,000 chronically truant students during the most recent school year, the district is opening the center as an initial step under its new “truancy task force,” organized earlier this year in an effort to increase attendance in low-performing schools. Last year, budget cuts forced the closure of all but one truancy center, said district student safety manager Ronald Pope.

“What we’re looking at is doing one in each quadrant of the city so that if a police officer picks up a child, they don’t have to go outside of their district to transport that child to a truancy center,” Pope said.

The other locations will be determined after the district’s 2015-16 budget is finalized in July.

The new truancy center will open Aug. 10, the district’s first day of school, at Hickory Ridge Towne Center. The board is renting a space in the mall for $500 a month for the 2015-16 school year.

Students taken to a truancy center undergo assessments to determine why they are skipping school, then receive counseling, Pope said.

A student is considered truant if he or she misses five or more days of school, according to the district’s attendance policy.

The mall is owned by the Hickory Ridge Mall Community Development Corp., which “desires that all its facilities be used for activities consistent with our Christian faith,” according to the lease document.

The lease, which Hickory Ridge director of economic development Jimmie Haley says every tenant must sign, includes a strict code of ethics that prohibits lewd behavior or profanity. The district has negotiated an addendum to the contract that allows the district to use whatever methods are necessary to help students.

In a letter to Pope, Haley wrote: “Nothing in our lease agreement restricts Shelby County Schools from counseling or servicing any student regardless of their race, creed, color, religion or sexual orientation, or performing any services within the leased premises that are consistent with its educational mission of Shelby County Schools students.”

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