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Truancy to pose test at Games

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Truant teens traditionally stand out in downtown Salt Lake City's business district like a pimple on the end of Britney Spears' nose.

But come Games time, they'll probably blend in.

Several Salt Lake City schools are recessing during the 2002 Winter Games, so perambulating teens could be commonplace around Olympic venues.

But the schools are recessing on different days, leaving police officers to sort out who's breaking state truancy laws and who isn't.

"It's going to be tough. There's a worldwide event going on downtown, and it's quite a temptation to come down," Salt Lake City Police Sgt. James Ferrin said. "It's somewhat of a concern. Hopefully, kids will stay where they're supposed to be."

City leaders and school districts across the Wasatch Front have attempted to crack down on truancy.

In Ogden, police spotting juveniles roaming around during school hours stop, question and possibly shuffle them to a holding facility until parents come to pick them up. Students must carry identification cards that include a sticker from school detailing where students are supposed to be at certain times under the 2000 ordinance.

Salt Lake City and neighboring cities adopted a similar truancy policy in the early '90s.

Granite School District last fall proposed fining truants up to $48 for their transgression or allowing students to work off the fine.

The Utah Legislature also has taken on the issue. In 1999, Rep. Duane Bourdeaux , D-Salt Lake, successfully carried a bill to cite parents with a Class B misdemeanor for failing to combat their children's truancy problems.

The idea is not necessarily to punish, advocates say, just to keep youths in school. Utah law requires all children ages 6 to 18 years old to go to school. Districts grant exceptions for home-schooling.

Law enforcement officers characterize truancy as the first step to juvenile crime. Research has shown that juvenile crime rates spike from 3 to 8 p.m. ? after school, when children might be unsupervised.

Sometimes, problems arise when one school is out while the others are in, Granite District spokeswoman Michele Bartmess said. Children might visit schools that are in session, a usually well-meaning act that can become disruptive.

"That is a very serious concern for those schools that are in," Bartmess said.

During the Games, Granite Police Lt. Todd Rasmussen and other officers say they'll enforce education laws as usual: on a case-by-case basis.

"We still have our patrolmen out there, and they are still doing their jobs, and we're not going to let the everyday tasks we do slip through the cracks," Rasmussen said. "But it is going to be pretty difficult . . . and take a little bit of extra time."

Police, however, might get a helping hand from the unlikeliest of sources: Mother Nature and bright orange barricades.

"There are only so many places accessible to kids, and it will be cold," Ferrin said. "Even people down here are looking at maps to see how they're going to get around."

E-MAIL: jtcook@desnews.com