Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 22, 2013

Judicial partnership Truancy rates declining in Mercer

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Truancy rates among students in Mercer County are down by more than 80 percent since a unique partnership was launched more than a year ago by the school and judicial systems.

Circuit Court Chief Judge Omar Aboulhosn says the truancy rate for sixth- to 12th-grade students is down by 85 percent. And the rate for kindergarten through fifth-grade students has dropped by 86 percent. That’s welcomed news that should go a long way toward helping to keep youngsters in the classroom.

And the crackdown on truant students continues. The school system filed approximately 80 truancy petitions and more than a dozen education abuse and neglect petitions last week with the local judicial system. In addition to the status offender petitions for middle and high school students, the school system will also be submitting to the Department of Health and Human Resources more than a dozen education abuse and neglect petitions for parents and guardians of elementary students violating school truancy policies.

The addition of the 80 new offenders brings the total number of active truancy cases in Mercer County to approximately 190. Aboulhosn will be holding general arraignment days for the truancy cases on Feb. 11 and 13 while Circuit Court Judge William Sadler will conduct preliminary hearings for offenders on Feb. 19 and 21. Pending the review of hearings, students found chronically truant must either adhere to court-ordered improvement plans or be placed on probation.

The school system policy defines truancy as more than five unexcused absences in a school year, though allowances are made for students with unique circumstances such as chronic illness or family crisis.

Aboulhosn and school officials correctly note that the program is making a positive difference.

“Kids who come into the program were missing in excess of five days a month in a month where there were only 20 or 22 school days,” Aboulhosn said last week. “The program seems to be working. I think school administrators will tell you they are seeing a decline in the number of students missing class or coming in late.”

In addition to reducing truancy rates, Aboulhosn said the program is also helping students solve deeper issues they may be facing.

“We see truancy is often related to mental health issues, family dynamics and drugs and we are finding out these issues are all components of truancy,” Aboulhosn added. “These are really difficult cases. They take up a whole lot of time in dealing with these cases for us, and probation officers. We are dealing with a lifetime of issues in these cases and trying to resolve them. A lifetime of family problems, drug abuse and mental health problems are culminating in this one case. It takes a lot of time and energy, but ultimately we think it’s worth it.”

We agree, and we congratulate the school system and the judicial system on the completion of its first year of this successful new partnership. The ultimate goal of the truancy program is, of course, to keep kids in school. That’s because a student with a high school diploma is much more likely to avoid falling into a cycle of poverty and crime.

That’s why we must continue to strive to keep kids in the classroom.