By Mike Dunn
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia’s District Attorney says bureaucracy at the Philadelphia School District is thwarting his effort to go after parents of students who are chronically truant.
At a city council budget hearing, DA Seth Williams said he wants to do more to reign in truancy of children and teens.
“We just want to be the bad cop, to DHS’s good cop.” Williams complained that while school district leadership is supportive, bureaucracy stands in the way.
“I’m very thankful that charter schools have worked very well with us. I cannot say the same for the School District of Philadelphia,” he said. “It’s this layer of bureaucracy right below (leadership) that has thwarted any opportunity for collaboration — meaningful collaboration — with the District Attorney’s office.”
The issue, Williams said, is that district will not provide names and addresses of students who are chronically truant, citing the federal privacy law known as FERPA — the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
The DA says other municipalities have worked out letters of understanding with school systems to honor FERPA while still allowing the DA to contact families of truants.
“So that we could send letters to parents of children that are chronically truant.”
The letter writing, Williams said, would be the start of his office’s effort, and he said the pressure on parents who willfully ignore warnings of truancy would ramp up, escalating in a worst case to felony charges against the parent.
Williams’ complaints about school district bureaucracy come one week after a similar budget hearing complaint from City Controller Alan Butkovitz. He said mid-level financial bureaucrats create a culture of secrecy that prevents him from getting a full picture of the district’s finances.
A spokesman for the School District said those federal privacy requirements have prevented the district from reaching an agreement with the Office of the District Attorney. He said the District is continuing to work with DHS and Family Court to provide truancy prevention services to children and families.