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School truancy cases can wind up in court

By Staff | Mar 2, 2009

It’s been an on-going problem that’s not considered a crime.

Yet, the legal system gets involved and court officials search for ways to discourage the deviant behavior.

Truancy becomes a ‘big’ issue this time of year and there are a ‘raft’ of cases, says Faribault County juvenile probation officer Joe Fox.

“It’s kids who are at-risk of doing other things,” he says.

Recently, four scheduled court hearings dealt with students not attending school.

Fox says there are generally 10 to 20 cases of truancy every year in the county. And, it involves mostly students in grades 7-10.

“Bringing them into court is the last resort. The judge orders the child must attend school up to age 16,” says Fox. “We follow-up with a monthly meeting.”

Dale Brandsoy, superintendent of Blue Earth Area schools, says district officials emphasize the importance of attending classes on a regular basis. And, he says they’ll seek help from the court if necessary.

“I see it as a form of neglect, if we don’t address the problem. We wouldn’t be doing our job or holding up our end of the deal if we didn’t do something,” says Brandsoy.

The superintendent says students are told that going to school is their full-time job and prepares them when they go out into the real world.

“Employers look at transcripts. The number of tardies and absences,” he says. “They are not going to allow you to skip a day here and there.”

For a student to be considered truant they must have had seven different unexcused absences during the school year.

It’s not that school officials or Fox have not tried to resolve the problem before a student lands in court.

A letter is usually sent to the parents and meetings are held with the parents, student, school administrators and Fox.

Officials have turned to ‘electronic monitoring’ bracelets to keep tabs on students.

Cost to students and parents is set on a sliding-fee schedule and can cost up to $10 a day.

“We start out with a week. If the student responds, then we stop. Sometimes we have to use other methods,” says Fox.

One alternative implemented several years ago involved sending students to Youth Services International Academy in Elmore. Because it was court ordered, law enforcement officials would transport teen truants on a Friday for a weekend stay.

Fox says sending students to YSI isn’t done much these days because it’s considered an out-of-home placement.

However, the academy still remains an option for uncooperative youths.

“It’s not our first choice. But, we’ll up the ante and they could find themselves spending a weekend in Elmore,” adds Fox.

Once a youth appears in court, only school staff or a doctor may excuse a student from school.

“Part of the problem is parents not taking responsibility and knowing that help is available if they call,” says Fox. “The answer is working with parents to get their kids to go to school.”