York City school board reverses on truancy officer deal with police, votes to accept grant

York City School Police Chief Michael Muldrow explains the Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative, a program aimed at curbing the city's juvenile crime problem, on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020.

When York City school board members argued recently over the need for a police officer to address truancy in the district, they didn't know the real reason behind the initiative.

Several board members on Jan. 13 panned what they believed was a truancy reduction program. Instead, they were told Wednesday that the grant-funded program would be something entirely different.

"It's not a truancy program, it's a violent crime reduction program," said school police Chief Michael Muldrow at the board's Wednesday, Jan. 22 meeting.

Muldrow said the program is essentially a juvenile leg of York City's Group Violence Initiative, based on a national program aimed at stemming  violence in urban communities.

The school board was swayed after hearing about its actual purpose. Board member Carman Bryant said she appreciated the clarification so they could make an accurate decision.

Board members voted 6-1 in favor of approving the grant Wednesday. Thompson-Morgan voted against it because she said she was not comfortable with all the details in the agreement, but she would not elaborate.

Board members Michael Breeland and Diane Glover-Brown were absent.

The program will have the residual benefit of reducing truancy in the district, but that's not why it was created, Muldrow said, while urging board members to ratify the deal with York City Police.

The Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative pitched to the board last Monday would use grant money to cover the salary of an existing York City Police officer dedicated to connecting juvenile offenders with resources and sending them back to school.

The district and city police will jointly fund the new position within York City Police — the district offering $60,000 from a state grant and police contributing $30,000 from the York County Bar Association.

Several board members last week were unsure if they would approve the grant because they did not see a need for a truancy officer when district-employed attendance officers already did the same work.

More:Concern over police partnership leaves York City schools truancy grant up in air

Muldrow, however, said truancy was just the tip of the iceberg with the program, which would attempt to address a much bigger problem: juvenile violence.

"If you'll indulge me, I'd like to start from the beginning," he said, addressing board members Wednesday.

The program was actually first brought to the district about three years ago by York City Police, but there was no grant available then, so the district did not have the money to pay for it.

Muldrow saw the opportunity more recently to craft a safety grant to fund the officer by focusing on compulsory student attendance laws that say children can't be on the street from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Modeled after GVI, the program would address a unique problem in York City, he said.

Data from GVI after the first year or so in York City showed a much higher proportion of crimes were being committed by juveniles in York than they were in other cities, he said.

In recent years, about 50% of suspects and roughly 50% of victims involved in shootings were younger than 18, according to York City Police.

Muldrow said it's about 10% of the population creating the problems, which means a lot of repeat offenders. 

The idea is to get those students off the street where they are committing crimes during the day and get them back in schools, surrounded by resources, he said.

More:York City partners with York College, county agencies to bolster GVI

Board member Tonya Thompson-Morgan questioned how city police would be able to differentiate between those offenders and other nonviolent truant students, and Muldrow said there would be roundups of all students.

York City school board members Arleta Riviera (left) and Cassandra Liggins (middle), along with Superintendent Andrea Berry, listen to school police Chief Michael Muldrow explain the Juvenile Violence Truancy Initiative, which was approved by the board Wednesday, Jan. 22.

Each sweep might not happen again for another week or month, but it would send a message, he said.

Board member Margie Orr said she remembers when the initiative was first posed in the district, and she applauds Muldrow for sticking with it.

"Something's got to be done," she said of youth violence. "Broad daylight? We're afraid now."

 Thompson-Morgan said she understood where the program was coming from now and that a police officer would probably be much more equipped than the district's own employees at handling these cases.

But she shared concerns about so many students coming back to school and putting a strain on district resources.

Muldrow said it would not just be district resources supporting the students, but an entire community network.

"That officer — whoever gets that job — they're not just going to be hitting doors and hopping out on street corners, it's a networking job," he said.

The truancy officer would harness the support of the county's probation department and municipal and local agencies and not-for-profits. 

The JVTI program will be effective through May 30, 2021.