Superintendent Wants to Fine Truant Students


New Britain Superintendent of Schools Kelt Cooper
A Connecticut superintendent wants to keep students in their seats with stiff truancy fines that hit parents in their pocketbooks. However, his ambitious plan would require changes to state law and local ordinances.
According to an article in the New Britain Herald, truancy is a chronic problem in New Britain. The article says, “According to a recent study, 48 percent of New Britain High School students are chronically absent from school.” Approximately 2500 students attend the school.
Superintendent of Schools Kelt Cooper started in New Britain last month, coming from Del Rio, Texas. His plan is to whack students with a $75 fine if they are caught by police.
He told the Herald, “Seventy-five dollars is enough of a sting to have an effect. It’s enough of a fine, I believe, to get students back in school. The money will be coming from the parents and the parents will not take too kindly to paying a $75 fine.”
Cooper doesn’t have the authority to implement the fines. He needs to get approval from the New Britain City Council before that can happen. Cooper would like to see the fine imposed on any student out during the school day without a legal guardian between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. Students at work would be exempt.
It also appears Cooper may have to get the General Assembly to change state law. According to state statute, school districts can impose fines, but not for more than $20. The statute on habitual truants reads, “Each city and town may adopt ordinances concerning habitual truants from school and children between the ages of five and eighteen years wandering about its streets or public places, having no lawful occupation and not attending school, and may make such ordinances respecting such children as shall conduce to their welfare and to public order, imposing penalties, not exceeding twenty dollars, for any one breach thereof.”
In Del Rio, Cooper had school district police who checked for truancy. New Britain police have two school resource officers assigned to the school district. However, it appears Cooper would like to see all police officers in the city tasked with enforcing the truancy rule.
“It sounds like a wonderful idea,” Democratic Mayor Pro Tem Michael Trueworthy told the Herald. “But, I would like to check on the legality of it and the enforcement of it. We can’t overburden law enforcement, but kids should be in school during school hours.”
Cooper has hit the ground running since starting his new position on July 1. Among his first moves is ending a bilingual program in a cost-cutting move. Cooper, according to a Hartford Courant article, told the New Britain Board of Education, “We’ve spread ourselves so thin that we’re not getting any bang for the buck. It’s very apparent that this is not working.”