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Ahoy, skippers!

High school truants, beware!

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Well, 40 of you have to beware, anyway.

If all goes as planned, the Pittsburgh Public Schools board will approve funding Aug. 27 for 40 Pittsburgh students' tuition at The Academy, a 20-year-old alternative education program in Baldwin Borough for juvenile offenders who are failing their regular classes, often because of poor attendance. Quite apart from its academic programming, The Academy is highly effective for one common-sense but expensive, labor-intensive reason: It is very hard to cut class. Academy workers personally pick up and drop off each student at home.

Noted board member Jean Fink before the Aug. 20 decision: "If you have a child who's not going to school, and you allow that child to pursue their favorite truant activity, pretty soon they're a 20-year-old in the 10th grade. We need to catch them before it's too late."

The Academy was established by the county's Court of Common Pleas and supported by judges Cheryl Allen and Kim Clark. Academy directors had asked in April that the board fund slots for up to 75 city students -- but at more than $6,000 per student per semester, such an arrangement would have cost the district over $900,000. Also, school administrators argued earlier this summer, the district runs its own alternative education program for high schoolers at Letsche Education Center in the Hill District. However, a majority of board members pushed for the district to participate in The Academy; the board compromised on 40 slots.

Unfortunately, there are a lot more than 40 troubled teens in the district: As of last spring, 1,140 Pittsburgh teenagers were involved in the juvenile justice system in some way. According to juvenile court administrators, 650 were still attending school (although many had academic, behavioral or attendance issues) but the remaining 490 were dropouts.

While school officials still maintained that their own programs should handle most truants, Chief Academic Officer Andrew King noted: "These students might otherwise be assigned to a juvenile institution," such as Shuman Detention Center. "Now they can stay in an educational setting."

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