Boone County remains dedicated to truancy issues

Fred Pace

August 30, 2013

MADISON – Boone County students just returned to school Aug. 22, but keeping kids in school is the main goal for Stacia Roberts, the school-based truancy probation officer for Boone County.

She will spend 80 percent of her time inside schools in Boone County.

“I want to be in the schools,” she said. “I was to be spending my time hands-on helping students having trouble with attendance.”

Roberts lives in Hewitt and is a 2006 graduate of Scott High School. She graduated college from West Virginia State University in 2010 with a degree in criminal justice.

The resources are now all in place for children and parents with truancy issues, said Justin Marlowe, Boone County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney.

The officer works with school officials, teachers, students, parents and the courts in the new early intervention-based program.

Thanks to funding provided by the Boone County Board of Education the Circuit Court was able to hire a probation officer whose workload is dedicated to truancy issues.

Officer Roberts and Attendance Boone County School Attendance Director Eddie Weikle try to meet with students and their parents when a student reaches five unexcused absences.

The purpose of the meeting is to learn why the child is absent and offer solutions, educate both child and parents on attendance laws and school policy, and discourage any further unexcused absences.

Most students respond favorably at this level, according to Roberts, but formal legal action against either the child or parent is required from time-to-time.

Education is the key to our future, said Boone County’s Twenty-fifth Judicial Circuit Judge William Thompson. Early intervention is the key to reducing school drop-outs.

In an effort to accelerate how quickly a case is heard, Thompson has set aside a portion of his weekly docket exclusively for truancy.

“I don’t want kids missing more days and getting any further behind,” said Thompson.

Each week Judge Thompson has a host of students and parents offering excuses for why they missed school. If they are unable to convince Thompson that the absences were justified he places the student on an improvement period which is similar to probation.

“Should a child continue to be truant once under supervision he or she risks being removed from the parent’s home and being placed in the State’s custody,” he said. “In the case of very young students, the parents are charged and can be either fined or jailed depending on the severity of the offense.”

Thompson says the program supports Supreme Court Justice Robin Davis, a Boone County native, initiative on reducing truancy rates and keeping kids in school.

Boone is the fourth county in the state to have a school-based probation officer, he said.

“Logan, Wayne and Mercer counties have very successful results and we expect the same for Boone County,” he sai.d

The officer will focus on attendance and behavioral issues with students.

Being able to address this problem early helps to keep it out of the court system, said Chief Probation Officer Jerry Swanson.

Judge Thompson says many of those on his criminal docket are high school dropouts.

It is a problem that needs addressed and this is another positive way to help students and parents, Thompson said.

Boone County Board of Education President Mark Sumpter said a child couldn’t learn if they are not in school.

“When they miss a lot of school, they get behind,” Sumpter said. “Anything we can do to make sure they are attending school regularly and staying in school is good news for Boone County Schools, student, teachers, parents and the community.”

Boone County Schools Superintendent John Hudson says combating truancy is something all schools systems must address.

“Engaging students and families with a school-based juvenile probation officer should greatly assist with truancy and disciplinary issues,” he said. “Early intervention, along with promoting community involvement in dropout prevention, will be the key to combating Boone County truancy and dropout rates.”

Boone County compulsory school attendance law states that any parent who allows their child to be absent without a legal excuse for five days in a school year is in violation of the state’s attendance law.

Once a parent has been properly notified that their child has been absent without a legal excuse and continues to allow their child to be illegally absent from school, the attendance director shall sign a warrant before the magistrate, or judge.

If the parent is found guilty of a first offense violation of the compulsory attendance law, the magistrate may: (1) fine the parent $50 to $100 dollars plus court cost; and/or (2) order the parent to attend school with the child for as long as they deem necessary; or, (3) may defer the sentence for sixty school days and if the child misses no unexcused days, the magistrate may not impose the penalty.

If the parent is found guilty of a second and subsequent offense of the compulsory attendance law, the magistrate may: (1) fine the parent $50 to $100 dollars plus court cost; (2) order the parent to attend school with the child for as long as they deem necessary; or, (3) place the parent in jail for five to twenty days.

Listed below are absences that the Boone County Board of Education recognizes as excused: (1) Doctors excuse; (2) Illness with a note from home (not to exceed 6 days a year); (3) Illness of a family member (doctors note required); (4) Calamity-fire, flood, etc; (5) Death in the family (limit three days): (6) Legal obligation; (7) Failure of the bus to run; (8) Observance of religious holiday; and/or, (9) Extenuating circumstances approved by the school principal.

Official said that all excuses require written verification. If no written excuse is received by the school, the absence will be considered unexcused, officials added.

All officials involved in the program believe it is beneficial.

“It’s not about punishing kids or parents, but about getting an education and preventing them from becoming another negative statistic,” Swanson added.

For a more detailed description of the Attendance Policy and the WV Compulsory School Attendance Law contact Eddie Weikle, Attendance Director of Boone County Schools at 304-369-8252.