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Wayback Wednesday: When truants had their own schools

Before there were “chronically absent” children, there were “truants.” And truants were dealt with as criminals, with the city allocating funds to build detention centers for them even when it couldn’t afford to build enough schools for all the city’s children.

Enter progressive education official Julia Richman, who in 1905 launched a kinder, gentler model of truant school. In a full-page profile of the school late in its first year, The New York Times called the Lower East Side school “one of the most important experiments in sociology ever undertaken by the New York Board of Education.” Under the leadership of Principal Olive Jones, a woman whose “casual appearance [gave] no indication of her concentrated strength of character,” boys enjoyed small classes, intensive counseling, group activities, and, most of all, fairness.

Olive Jones on admitting a new student:

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