Cops and Courts, Education

Courts, schools work together to curb truancy

The Monongalia County school system works with the Monongalia County Prosecutor’s office to prevent and deter truancy.

If a child in school has 10 unexcused absences, West Virginia schools are required by law to forward a truancy charge, either against the parents or the students if they are 18 years old, Danica Rubenstein, Attendance Director for Monongalia County Schools said.

Every school in the county has a designated attendance monitor. They work to make sure the student never reaches those 10 absences by setting up conferences with the child’s parents or guardians and the student.

She said the school does everything in its power to make sure truancy charges don’t come. “Our goal is for that child or that young adult to remain in school and graduate,” Ami Main, assistant prosecuting attorney, who handles truancy cases, said. Rubenstein said the schools offer a variety of programs to help high school students complete their degrees.

“We’re blessed in Mon County that our school system has the number of options that it has,” Main said. “And the resources that are available to help someone, stay in school to complete their diploma.”

The first truancy hearing, held in Magistrate Court, is treated as a status conference, Main said. Main looks at how many absences a child has, often more than 10 by the time it reaches the courts, and sees how far behind academically they are. Missing school can have a significant impact on learning, she explained. Main also talks about the reasons for the absences with the parents. She said a common excuse is illness. Rubenstein said transportation is also an oft-cited excuse which can be hard to swallow, given the county’s bus system. Other reasons include family emergencies, such as a death in the family. Of course, there’s also the looming specter of addiction.

Main said the underlying reasons why a student isn’t in school varies, but addiction is one of the biggest. A lot of times, parents simply forgot to send in notes for a student’s absence. Main said it’s always the parent’s job to make sure the note gets into the hands of the school. Rubenstein said the notes can now be submitted online, doctor notes can also be submitted through the system. There are several options going forward, including an improvement period. During that period, if attendance significantly increases, the people charged are brought back and the case is often dismissed.

“The goal is to make sure that the child is in school. Attending,” Main said. If attendance doesn’t improve, there’s the option to plea to the charge, which results in a fine of up to $100. Magistrates are also empowered to order the parent or guardian to go to school with the child. Main said that option had the potential for disruption in the classroom and hasn’t happened in years. There is also the right to have a trial. On the whole, Main said most people only offend once. Rubenstein said Monongalia County has the best school attendance in the state for the past several years.