School truancy petitions to be filed today in Mercer - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

School truancy petitions to be filed today in Mercer

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PRINCETON, WV, January 16, 2012:  Mercer County Circuit Court Judges Omar Aboulhosn and William Sadler met with courthouse staff, probation officers, and representatives of the WV Department of Health and Human Services (DHHR) yesterday to set dates for the approximately 80 preliminary hearings for truancy status offenders to be filed today by Mercer County Schools.

School district attendance officer Russell Lippencott estimated that the number of truancy petitions would be less than the original figure of 100.  "We are still working with the list and removing those with extenuating circumstances," he said.

In addition to the status offender petitions for middle and high school students, the district will also be submitting to the DHHR more than a dozen Education Abuse and Neglect petitions for parents/guardians of chronically truant elementary students. 

Mercer County Schools officials regard truancy as more than 5 unexcused absences in a school year.  Attendance officers can make allowances, however, for students with extenuating circumstances including chronic illness or family crisis. 

Judge Aboulhosn set general arraignment days for February 11 and 13.  Judge Saddler will conduct preliminary hearings on February 19 and 21.  Pending review of the hearings, students found to be chronically truant must either adhere to an improvement plan or be placed on probation. 

Now in its second year, the collaboration between Mercer County Schools and Mercer County Circuit Court is unique.  The program, initiated by the Honorable Robin Jean Davis, Justice of the WV Supreme Court, called for bringing chronically truant students before Circuit Court judges who would have the authority to charge them as status offenders, require a personal recognizance bond, and impose penalties including supervised probation.  When truancy is especially severe, students can be relocated to a facility with a school on campus.

Because truancy among young children is often an indication of parental neglect, a different approach is applied in cases of children in grades K-5.   Parents are referred to the Department of Health and Human Resources for parenting classes, financial assistance, counseling, health evaluations, and other services.

In September 2011, the Mercer County Board of Education approved allocating funds for an additional probation officer to work solely on cases of school truancy.  Officer Nola Ingram holds that position, and works exclusively on truancy cases, handling 70% of all referrals.

Aboulhosn said from the outset that the goal of the program was not to "get all the kids and parents and lock ‘em up' but, rather, to see if we can provide the services, the help they need to get them back in school." Educators across the county have welcomed the program because of the dramatic improvement in school attendance. 

"Of the truancy cases we had last year," Aboulhosn recently told local legislators, "students were missing, on average, 5 or more days a month –one fourth of the instructional days in a month.  The courts and DHHR got involved,  and that number dropped to less than one day per month!"

Data indicate that in America, seven thousand students drop out of school every day.  Eight out of ten dropouts end up in prison at some point in their lives.  Dropouts are also far more likely to be unemployed or underemployed, live below the poverty line, and become involved with illegal substances.

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