Judge hopes for truancy overhaul

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Children are no longer being dragged into Richmond County Juvenile Court after a few unexcused absences.

Juvenile Court Judge Ben Allen said he held a few hearings shortly after being assigned to oversee truancy court a year ago, but he soon stopped.

The number of students referred to his court for truancy slowed considerably after he decided the process wasn't working and needed to be overhauled.

In each of the past three years, more than 1,000 students were referred to court for truancy, but last school year that number nose-dived. By mid-April, only 282 referrals were made.

"I just decided there's got to be a better way," Judge Allen said in a recent interview.

He said he prefers a system that provides support and helps students avoid the courts all together.

"Truancy is a symptom, not a problem," he said. "I'm trying to get us to a point where it's not punishment we're looking for, it's the best interest of the child."

Judge Allen said it's important to uncover the underlying reason why a child is skipping school. For example, it might be because the child's family has a home without power.

"You've got to deal with that issue before you can start to talk about school," he said. "We've had a process, but I don't think we've addressed truancy the way I would like to."

In 2004, the Georgia General Assembly passed legislation requiring every community to develop a truancy protocol committee. The intent was to create a collaborative effort across government agencies to address truancy by establishing local policies and meeting regularly to further its efforts.

Students with five or more unexcused absences were ordered to appear in Richmond County court, which would determine the cause of the problem and direct officials to work with the student and the student's family to resolve it.

In November, however, the county's state-mandated committee stopped meeting as a whole group, instead assigning a subcommittee the task of completely rewriting the truancy protocol, said Steve Hayes, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, one of the agencies represented by the committee.

The new protocol will incorporate a screening process, preventing cases from getting into the juvenile justice system that can be handled outside court.

"Schools will be asked to assist in screening cases before making court referrals, and the new protocol will clarify each agency's role," Mr. Hayes wrote in an e-mail. "Bottom line reason for reworking it is that too many cases easily handled outside of court were going to court unnecessarily."

The full committee is expected to meet again this month to consider approving the new protocol, he said.

"Hopefully as planned the new protocol will be effective for the new school year," Mr. Hayes said.

Judge Allen said the proposed changes direct resources to assist the student up front.

Richmond County Superintendent Dana Bedden said educators continue to struggle to find a solution to truancy.

"I'm in a wait-and-see mode" on the proposed changes, he said. Judge Allen said the same approach to education has been taken for hundreds of years, and truancy remains a problem.

"Will this approach work? I don't know, but it's different," he said.

Reach Greg Gelpi at (706) 828-3851 or greg.gelpi@augustachronicle.com.

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patriciathomas
42
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patriciathomas 07/12/09 - 06:30 am
0
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Poor parenting has ALWAYS

Poor parenting has ALWAYS been the reason for truancy. A large part of our population are being trained to be poor parents by government subsidy.

workingmom
0
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workingmom 07/12/09 - 09:12 am
0
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I'm not sure there is a

I'm not sure there is a solution to this problem. If people refuse to recognize that truancy is a severe problem with their own children, then it cannot be resolved.

trucksareforgirlz
0
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trucksareforgirlz 07/12/09 - 10:04 am
0
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I'm confused. When I went to

I'm confused. When I went to school, an UN-excused absence meant one of my parents did not excuse the absence, meaning at least one of my parents would have been contacted the day I skipped to find out why I was not at school, further meaning that I would be in BIG TROUBLE with them for skipping school without their permission and authorization. 5 unexcused absences are now allowed before a kid is deemed a truancy problem? Sign me up for school now! What an easy way to get into trouble because I've got 5 "free passes" to skip school and hang with the other hoodlums skipping for free, and Mom and Pop ain't gonna know. Woo hoo!

redapples
658
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redapples 07/12/09 - 12:09 pm
0
0
In order to contact the

In order to contact the parents you have to have a valid phone number and that is a REAL challenge! I find that many of the parents don't want to be contacted. It sounds harsh and sad, but unfortunately in my experience it has been true.

LCC0256
626
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LCC0256 07/12/09 - 12:49 pm
0
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it is a great observation by

it is a great observation by Judge Allen that truancy is a symptom of the problem...however the problem is ALWAYS due to parents who have no desire to be parents or moral incentive to learn how to parent...if a child lives in a home without power then FIND A HOME FOR THOSE CHILDREN where the parents/guardians are responsible enough to CARE PROPERLY FOR THEM..that is a NO BRAINER..UNTIL THIS modern American society holds PARENTS accountable for the responsibility & GREAT PRIVILEGE of being a parent then this modern American society is going to continue to have children without proper love & guidance which is DIRECTLY proportional to juvenile crime & juvenile incarceration...how can these facts continue to escape the public at large? We ALL know the answer to that & it is because Judeo Christian principles that have been the guiding force behind this country are being systematically removed & vilified. Remove the teaching of right and wrong, & the idea of good and evil from a society and they will cease to know the difference...

blythepjp
0
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blythepjp 07/12/09 - 03:05 pm
0
0
I have experienced the

I have experienced the truancy courts. What concerns me most is that All of the "unexcused" absences may not be that cut and dry. When they ask you to pick up your child, even though not suspended, what gives the BOE the right to say they are unexcused? If the child asked the BOE to check with the teachers, what gives them the right to say "they dont have to, they were "TOLD" you were not in class by other students? Is this a joke or what?

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 07/12/09 - 07:13 pm
0
0
What do you do when the

What do you do when the parents tell their children, if you'll do this for me, you can stay out of school tomorrow? I couldn't believe my ears. I'm glad they are getting tough on truancy, but sometimes it really is the parents that are the problem.

FallingLeaves
27
Points
FallingLeaves 07/12/09 - 07:15 pm
0
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There were a lot of

There were a lot of well-heeled children skipping school, too, because when both parents are working, they don't know that the kids have skipped and returned home while they're gone. There was a LOT of that going on until they tightened up the rules.

FallingLeaves
27
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FallingLeaves 07/12/09 - 07:41 pm
0
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I agree with Mr. Allen,

I agree with Mr. Allen, though, past protocol hasn't worked, time to try something new. I don't know what their plan is, just hope it works.

Little Lamb
45146
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Little Lamb 07/12/09 - 09:39 pm
0
0
Look at the fourth paragraph

Look at the fourth paragraph above. In past years, they had just over 1000 truancy cases a year. By mid-April of 2009, they have had almost 300 truancy cases. Do the math. It's the same rate!

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