SEPTA Police Sgt. Chris Hannigan has heard hundreds of stories in his 13 years heading up truancy sweeps for the transit agency. This particular morning, he speaks with a 16-year-old Fels High student who claims he left school because he had no one to watch his infant while the child’s mother went to the doctor.
“There’s so many different things that we hear,” Hannigan said. “Some of them could be true, but a lot of them are not.”
That student joins 30 others on a bus at the Frankford Transportation Center who are waiting to be taken to a truancy center. Each morning, the bus is at a different location while Philadelphia police, Philadelphia School District police and SEPTA police drop off students they find without a valid excuse.
Truancy continues to be a major problem for the district. Last year, roughly 52,800 students were considered chronically truant with 10 or more unexcused absences. That represents one-third of the student population.
But the collaborative effort, which began in 1998, has been called a success inside and outside the district. SEPTA said it cuts down on juvenile crime during the day, while the school district considers it a way to discourage cutting.
“Hopefully, we’re able to deter them from doing it again,” said Erica Washington, the district’s interim deputy of attendance and truancy.
While there are some “hardcore” cutters, Hannigan said he sees very few repeat offenders. “We’re making them accountable for their actions,” he said.