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Atlanta Police, School Officials Pick Up 450 Truant Students in Three Days

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Atlanta police and school officials quietly orchestrated a massive sweep of truant students two weeks ago that picked up more than 450 students from city streets, shopping malls, and public-transit stations over a three-day period.

The sweep was of an unprecedented scale for Atlanta, and it brought in more truants than the total number detained from last October through December, according to Julius Derico, the city's deputy police chief.

Atlanta police, transit police, and: school detectives transported the truants to a school building used as a central-processing office, then re- turned them to their schools. None of the students was formally charged with truancy, police said, although 11 were cited for other offenses, such as resisting arrest and drug or weapons possession.

Sixty-seven of the pupils picked up were from a total of six school districts outside the city system, officials said.

The roundup was part of "Operation Clean Sweep," an ongoing effort aimed at reducing truancy and juvenile delinquency in Atlanta.

Similar sweeps will take place periodically, according to Billie D. Gaines, the director of Mayor Maynard Jackson's education office, which coordinated the sweep with school and police representatives.

"What we're trying to do," said Lester W. Butts, Atlanta's superintendent of schools, "is to try to determine why children are not in school." On a typical day, he said, there may be 150 to 200 unexcused absences in the 61,000-student system.

Many students are not cutting class just because they are bored, Mr. Butts said. He cited other factors, including academic, health, and emotional problems.

Lawyers' Initiative

In a separate development, Atlanta-area juvenile-court officers and lawyers announced the creation of a truancy-prevention and mentoring program at a news conference on Jan. 8. The group was unaware that the sweep of truants was to begin the same day, organizers said.

Glenda Johnson, a juvenile-court judge in Fulton County, which includes Atlanta, spearheaded the collaborative effort by area public schools, the Atlanta Bar Association, and the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Association. Some 200 lawyers have volunteered to serve as advocates and mentors for chronic truants.

A truant whose case reaches the juvenile-court system will be referred to a volunteer lawyer, who will establish why the absences occurred and will work with the student's family to get him back in school. Until now, such cases have been turned over to a public defender.

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, expressed support for the initiative at the press conference, which was held at Atlanta's Carter Presidential Center.

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