Archive for Thursday, November 17, 1994


November 17, 1994


Truancy officers are learning students' tricks, and, as a result, students are learning not to be truant.

Hardly a mutter came from Micheal Hill's walkie-talkie as he stood watch on the northeast corner of the Lawrence High School campus.

By the end of first period, the cup of cafeteria coffee in his hand was starting to lose its steam, and morning frost was melting from the high school lawn.

"It's almost scary," he said of the quiet.

Perhaps the early chill kept surrounding neighborhoods and parks void of students. No one was hiding behind a wooden fence in the alley between the "777" laundry and a row of homes. He looked.

No one hid in the school's north doorway, waiting to steal away to Veterans Park after he passed. Running is futile. Hill was a sprinter in college.

Perhaps anticipation of today's "Great American Smokeout" had students ready to shun their habit of puffing "cancer sticks," he said.

One thing is sure, he said: Students are beginning to understand that they can't be off campus to smoke or for most other reasons, except at lunch or before or after school.

After the school board agreed to stick with its campus ban of smoking and toughen truancy enforcement two months ago, Hill and another truancy officer joined the staff to patrol surrounding neighborhoods.

Clean-shaven and 23 years old, Hill could almost pass as a student. The two juniors walking from an exit toward the park saw only the smiling face of a young person wearing a ski jacket, a sweater and black jeans. Only the black wing-tip shoes were a clue to his age. The walkie-talkie was hidden in his back pocket.

"Where are you off to, ladies?" he asked, stepping toward them on the sidewalk.

"Over to the park for a second?" one of them tried.

Hill said he didn't think so.

"Is there anyone over there in the park? Because we're kind of missing someone," one of the girls said.

Hill radioed the name of the alleged missing student into the office and told the girls he would handle it. He sent them to the office to wait for second period. "I'll be checking on you there," he said.

"It's been different since they put in the new police," said Jodie Caffey, as she walked back to the building with her friend, Felicia Bucia. "You really can't leave campus like we just tried."

A youth with brown hair hanging just below his chin cupped a cigarette behind his hand then extinguished the butt as he neared the intersection of 19th and Louisiana. Hill waited for him to cross to campus and quietly urged him to class.

The student said nothing in response and sneered. Then he went into the building. Hill recognized the student; the two have tangled before.

"I'm unpopular with some of them," he said. "I'm like, `I'm not the one who told you to walk across campus and walk off school grounds to take a smoke. The minute you did, I had to step in and do my job.' "

Hill's high school in Kansas City, Kan., had a closed campus and a policy against students wearing Starter-brand jackets and ball caps, policies that in retrospect were effective, he said.

As the day warmed, Hill's day got busier. By school's end, he had escorted nine truants to the office -- what he described as a typical day.

"It's like a drum," he said. "Classical music in the morning, and by afternoon, it's heavy metal."

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