Officials work toward a new truancy policy

A new policy for dealing with truancy cases in Richmond County schools is getting close to implementation.

 

Juvenile Court Judge Ben Allen, who was assigned to truancy court more than a year ago, says several area officials -- including those from the school system, the state Department of Juvenile Justice and the Health Department -- met last week to work on finalizing the plan.

"We had every major player at the table," the judge said. "Hopefully within the next couple of weeks we'll have a new protocol."

Judge Allen said the new protocol would likely cut down on cases heading to court.

"It doesn't make any sense to bring kids who missed days directly in the court. There needs to be some effort made by different agencies to find out what the real problem is," the judge said, adding that in some cases it could be a health issue or a problem at home.

In past years as many as 1,000 students have been referred to court for truancy in a given school year, according to reports in The Augusta Chronicle. But officials say attendance has improved in recent years.

Judge Allen said there haven't been any cases so far this year because truancy issues typically arise later in the school year, when absences begin to add up. He said officials also have been waiting to see how a new truancy protocol might factor in before making court referrals.

The Georgia General Assembly passed legislation in 2004 requiring every community to develop a truancy protocol committee to address the problem and establish policies.

Those students who had five or more unexcused absences were ordered to appear in Richmond County court.

The cause of the problem would then be addressed and officials would be ordered to work with the student and his or her family.

In November, a subcommittee was assigned to rewrite the protocol. A final document is still in the works but could be completed in the next month. It would then go before the Board of Education for approval, according to board attorney Pete Fletcher.

Already this school year, officials have temporarily adjusted their own truancy plan on how absences are to be excused.

Since Sept. 8, the system has suspended its requirement of a doctor's note for excused absences amid an outbreak of the novel influenza A H1N1 virus. Until Oct. 30, students can use a signed note from a parent or guardian.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com.