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Truancy a growing concern during pandemic, could put juveniles on dangerous path

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BATON ROUGE – It may be fallout from the pandemic, but juvenile crime is climbing. Experts are noticing more kids skipping class, virtual or otherwise, and some finding trouble on the streets.

On Wednesday, a man police now identify as Maurice Mark shot a 16-year-old who Mark told police was in the middle of stealing from his truck. It happened when the morning bell is ringing at most high schools in East Baton Rouge Parish.

“In times where there are struggles normally, these circumstances have made struggles even greater,” said Jennie Ponder, the director of the Truancy Assessment Service Center.

Ponder says this year, the center has referred 100 families to the district attorney’s office for truancy, which is much more than usual.

“We probably do an excess of 50 or 60 home visits a month,” Ponder said.

The increase in students choosing to skip out on school is a troubling trend nationwide. Virtual learning has created some glitches in the system.

“Some of the kids didn’t have computers. Some didn’t have internet hookup. So over time they were missing out on school everyday,” said Roxson Welch, director of Family and Youth Services.

The fear is, if kids aren't in school, they'll get involved in something they shouldn't.

"I've seen kids on the street that should be in school and were in school two years ago. So, it worries me,” Welch said.

Wednesday’s shooting is an unfortunate example.

"[Generally], it's a crime of convenience. People are at work, kids are not in school, the kids get together and do something none of them would do by themselves quite often."

There are programs in the parish that focus on welfare checks and bringing schoolwork to kids who are missing class. Throughout the state this year, 17,000 fewer students are attending public school.


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