HARRISBURG Anti-truancy policy sparks complaints



At least two teens ended up in Dauphin County's juvenile detention facility.
HARRISBURG (AP) -- A toughened truancy program in the city's school district has brought hundreds of pupils back to class, but has also resulted in complaints.
A few pupils even were arrested as they scuffled with uniformed truant officers.
The school district -- where as many as 400 of 7,900 pupils have been absent without an excuse on any given day -- has two full-time truant officers and two deputies with full powers of arrest. They drive the streets in three black-and-white sedans that look like police cars.
Residents can report truant pupils using a special hot-line number.
That hot line has resulted in scores of calls, and truant officers say they have caught as many as 50 pupils in the span of a week since launching the campaign in September.
Chief Truant Officer Henry Sandifer said officers have chased some teens down alleys and into abandoned buildings and pulled pupils out of their homes in handcuffs. In some cases, scuffles between the officers and the pupils have resulted in criminal assault charges against the teens.
Although Sandifer said he did not have precise statistics for the truancy program, at least two teens have ended up in Schaffner Youth Center, Dauphin County's juvenile detention facility.
But the hard line taken by truant officers has also drawn some complaints.
"They're acting like detectives," said Vernell Strawn, who works as a crossing guard for Harrisburg schools.
Girl charged
Strawn's daughter, 16-year-old Tondalaya Enos, locked herself in a bathroom when truant officers were invited into her home by her mother after she missed more than 40 days of school. The officers broke open the door and led her away in handcuffs.
Strawn, whose daughter does not live with him, said his daughter was missing school almost every day despite her father's pleadings.
Tondalaya's mother, Eva Enos, called truant officers to get her daughter to school and gave the officers permission to break open the bathroom door.
In a city police report, Sandifer alleges that the girl punched him twice in the chest and spat on another officer. Tondalaya denied the allegation. Sandifer said he and the other truant officers did not kick down the bathroom door, but rather pushed in a vent and reached a hand in to unlock it.
She was taken to Schaffner for 15 days before the school district agreed to reduce charges to simple assault. She was released on probation and placed on house arrest.
Strawn filed two complaints with the school district, saying the truant officers should have waited for Harrisburg police before breaking open the door. His daughter also filed a separate complaint with the school district.
"They're supposed to help her get to school, that's all," Strawn said.
Sandifer said physical altercations with pupils are rare and most pupils obey the officers when they come to take them to school.
However, he added, a few will always resist. "Some kids like to play," he said.

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