By Navneet Pal, CFCC Student Fellow 2012-2013
The Truancy Court Program run by the Center for Families, Children, and the Courts uses therapeutic jurisprudence and preventive law to address the issue of truancy. Through this approach, teachers (and/or other school officials), judges, volunteers, mentors, and parents work together to help students overcome obstacles that lead to excessive absences. When we punish students, we don’t eradicate the reason behind their truancy, thus setting them up for an endless cycle of absences and punishments.
Truancy programs are in effect in other states. However, the programs are run differently within each state to address the underlying problems that are unique to every school, district, or county. For example, Kanawha County, West Virginia has taken a very different approach, where a student who refuses to attend school can be removed from his or her home and put in a shelter. Placement in a shelter is a last resort, only used when a student refuses to attend school. Prior to that step, the circuit court system, school officials, social agencies, and parents work together to help students overcome attendance issues. In Kanawha County, after a student has had five unexcused absences, parents receive a legal notice from the school system, and a meeting is scheduled with the student, parents, and the County Magistrate. Then, the student has a court hearing and is put on probation. The student is only put in a shelter after all these steps are taken and the student has still refused to attend school.
Not all students will benefit from the Truancy Court Program. Many might disregard the effort that others, such as parents, teachers, judges, etc., are putting in for them. Kanawha County’s answer to these students is taking them from their homes and putting them wherever space is available. Many problems can arise out of this situation: children who are in more need of shelters can be left out because truants are taking over the shelters’ resources, which is an issue within itself. Other problems occur when the truants are taken away from their families, communities, and schools and put in an unfamiliar environment. They may also fall behind in schools because of different curriculums – which may lead to more absences, placing the student in a never-ending cycle of truancy.
Students who have excessive absences may fall behind in school or drop out altogether. Those who drop out of school can end up becoming involved in illegal activities or in jail. Therefore, truancy programs are important and helpful to students in most situations. Unfortunately, there are students, such as the ones being addressed in Kanawha County, West Virginia, who will not want to or be able to benefit from truancy programs. Placing them in shelters may scare them into changing their habits, but doing so may also harm other children (who are in need of shelter services), as well as put more obstacles in the truants’ paths, preventing them from attending classes and undermining the objectives of the truancy program.
West Virginia has implemented a statewide effort to battle truancy. A 2012 survey report from the state (link below) shows that the truancy initiatives have resulted in a reduction in the number of absences from school and an improvement in school achievements, among other successes.
Read about West Virginia’s Truancy Program & the survey report: