New Truancy Protocol Seeks to Improve Graduation Rate
Truancy is a problem in our community. A problem that can only be solved through the collaborative efforts of the school, parents, law enforcement officers, the prosecuting attorney, community stakeholders, and the court. In all the studies regarding truancy, when students do not attend school it affects their entire life from higher death rates, poor mental health, early pregnancy, more broken marriages, less earning capability, and a higher rate of contact with the criminal justice system.
“Over the last few years it has become apparent that truancy was not uniformly enforced across the county and we believed that it was time that we brought the administrators in all of the school districts to one table to establish a uniform way for truancy to be handled,” said Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis. “We also wanted to make sure that the schools retained as much discretion as possible, because they know their students and families better than anyone else in this system,” said Ambrozaitis.
With the new protocol, termed Operation Graduation, court intervention is the very last step in the process. If a family reaches the point where a juvenile delinquency petition against the child, a misdemeanor complaint against the parents, or a child protective petition for educational neglect against the parents is filed, all opportunities to assist the family to rectify the situation have failed. This new protocol calls for a more active role by the prosecutor’s office as well. They will become involved in some of the earlier intervention steps.
“Truancy is the barometer of a storm brewing in the life of a youngster in our community. The earlier we detect it and offer guidance, support, and intervention in a multidisciplinary team approach, the likelihood of a shipwreck on our watch diminishes.” Deputy Oster, school liaison for Harrison Community Schools.
“I am looking forward to utilizing the new truancy protocol. With the revamp of this protocol it gives us more tools to help families and children deal with issues related to truancy. And, in some cases, mitigate exposure to the court system. This is a necessary coordinated effort between school administrators, liaison officers, parents, students, prosecutor’s office and the courts.” Officer Brian David, school liaison for Clare Community Schools.
“Research shows that attendance rates directly correlate to academic success and graduation rates; furthermore, employers want to hire students that are prepared to be at work all day, every day. These school records are listed on every transcript and that can impact job opportunities and college scholarships. We believe it is absolutely critical for us to enforce the truancy law because we want to see our students successful today and in their futures.” Dr. Dee Yarger, Farwell HS Principal.
The applicable laws may be uploaded and are accessible at www.clarecountyprosecutor.com
THE PROTOCOL AND PROCEDURE
STEP 1: The school must monitor every student’s attendance. When a student has accumulated 5 to 7 unexcused absences, the school shall conduct a screening to determine if there is a violation of the school district attendance policy. If the 5 to 7 absences occur within the first three months of school, the school should look back to the last three months of the prior school year to determine if attendance has been a chronic problem. The school may, in its discretion, do any of the following: 1. Have a meeting scheduled with the student’s parent/guardian and the school liaison officer and/or the Pathways Worker and/or the Youth Intervention Specialist to discuss possible barriers to the child(ren) attending school. If attendance was determined to be a problem at the end of the prior school year, this option should be seriously considered. The meeting shall be documented within the student’s file. OR 2. A letter may be sent to the parents/guardians reminding them of the importance of school attendance. If the school opts to send a letter, the school will note in the student file if contact with the parents and/or guardians occurred to confirm receipt of the letter. And, a copy of the letter shall be maintained in the student file. OR 3. Determine that a meeting and/or a letter is not necessary at this time.
STEP 2: When the student accumulates 10 unexcused absences, the school shall notify the student’s parents/guardians of the lack of attendance. The school, after conducting a screening, may at their discretion do the following: 1. If the school chose to take no action in STEP 1 above, then the school may: a. Have a meeting scheduled with the student’s parent/guardian and the school liaison officer and/or the Pathways Worker and/or the Youth Intervention Specialist to discuss possible barriers to the child(ren) attending school. The meeting shall be documented within the student’s file. OR b. A letter may be sent to the parents/guardians reminding them of the importance of school attendance. If the school opts to send a letter, the school will document whether contact with the parents and/or guardians occurred to confirm receipt of the letter. And, a copy of the letter shall be maintained in the student file. 2. If the school sent a letter in STEP 1, the school shall do the following: a. Send a second letter via registered mail or personal service. The letter must warn the parents and/or guardians that the next step, if the truancy does not resolve, will be a scheduled meeting with school officials determine if the matter will result in a referral to the Prosecuting Attorney for delinquency and/or criminal charges. b. The Prosecuting Attorney shall be cc’d to this letter. When the Prosecuting Attorney receives a copy of this letter from the school, the Prosecuting Attorney will also send a letter to the parents/guardians urging them to ensure their child(ren) attend school and explain the penalties for violation of the Compulsory School Attendance Act. If the child has accumulated 10 or more excused absences, the school may request a meeting with the family to discuss the chronic absenteeism and what services might assist in ensuring the child(ren) attends school. And, the parties may determine that proof may be required to support any future excused absences. The attendees of this meeting could include all or any combination of: school administration, the school liaison officer, Pathways worker, Youth Intervention Specialist, parent(s), and child(ren). This meeting shall be documented within the student’s file.
STEP 3: When the student accumulates 15 unexcused absences then a meeting should be scheduled for the parent/guardian to meet with school officials. A copy of the letter scheduling the meeting should be cc’d to the Prosecuting Attorney. The Prosecuting Attorney will send a letter to the parent/guardian encouraging them to keep the meeting scheduled with the school. In certain cases, it might also be appropriate for the Prosecutor’s Office to contact the parents/guardian by telephone in addition to sending a letter. The purpose of the meeting is to investigate the student’s circumstances and determine if the student’s absences are justified and to refer the family to services to remove any barriers to attendance. If the school believes it is necessary, the Prosecuting Attorney or her representative can also attend the meeting. The child(ren) should be expected to be in school the following day and every day thereafter unless properly excused.
STEP 4: If the parent/guardian fails to present the child(ren) to school on the next regular school day or any school day following the meeting in STEP 3, the Prosecuting Attorney should be advised immediately. The Prosecuting Attorney will then schedule a meeting with the parents/guardian at the Prosecutor’s Office to review the Compulsory School Attendance Act with the parents/guardian and to offer the parents/guardians the opportunity to sign a contract to comply with attendance requirements or be subject to criminal charges or juvenile delinquency charges for the child or both. This contract will require the parents/guardian to send their child(ren) to school every day unless properly excused. The parents/guardian should also meet with the school’s PALS team once per month during the term of the contract to check in and discuss the progress and whether barriers still remain that affect attendance. The meeting shall be documented within the student’s file. PALS: Parents, Administrators, Law Enforcement, Students (the Pathways worker and the Youth Intervention Specialist should be brought into these meetings as well). This contract opportunity will only be offered once to a family. If they were on contract in any previous school year, this step will be skipped, and the matter will be immediately referred to the school liaison officer to submit for review for legal action.
STEP 5: If the parent/guardian breaks the contract, the matter shall be referred immediately to the Prosecuting Attorney for review for appropriate charges against the parents/guardian or child(ren). This referral shall be submitted via the liaison officer as a full report and warrant request for both the parent/guardian and the juvenile. The documentation that supports each step taken to resolve the truancy issue shall be included with the report submitted to the Prosecutor’s Office. This report should be submitted within a week of the violation to ensure swift punishment for failure to comply with the contract.