Police officers in Albany, New York, are now on the lookout for children skipping school as part of a citywide crackdown on students playing hooky.

Any school-age children found on public streets without a legitimate written excuse for not being in class will be taken by police to a city-run detention center, where a school district official will take custody of them, says Sheri Townsend, city commissioner of Youth and Workforce Services.

Townsend says officials will work with parents to get children to attend school. Extreme cases could be referred to the probation system of Family Court as a last resort, she says.

State education law requires children ages 6 to 16 to attend classes full time. In addition, school districts are under pressure from the federal No Child Left Behind Act to meet minimum attendance levels, says David Ernst, a spokesman for the New York State School Board Association.

“School district truant officers have pretty much been a thing of the past,” Ernst says. “Most districts usually turn to the parents, who sometimes are no more able to compel the student to do something than the district is.”

While some Albany students have said they think sending police officers after kids playing hooky is excessive, others agree with the policy because of the difficulty in getting some children to attend classes any other way.

“The days are gone when just an adult speaking sternly to a student who was out of school would be sufficient,” says Ernst. “The perceived moral authority of a truant officer is not as effective as it used to be.”