Facing the music when truancies pile up
March 20, 2013
Being called before the Douglas County School District truancy board can be intimidating, but board members hope the result is getting students back in class.
The board is mandated by state law, and meets once a month, or more often if necessary. Parents and their children are summoned after a child has four or more unexcused absences.
Members include representatives from the school district, district attorney's office, sheriff's office, juvenile probation office, and Tahoe Youth and Family Services.
Member Cheyanne Lane, outreach coordinator for Tahoe Youth and Family Services, said the board's purpose is to get to the root of why a student is missing school.
"I enjoy being on the board," she said. "I was a troubled kid, and didn't think going to school was all that important. If I had come across a board like this, that lets parents and kids know the consequences, it would have made a difference. This board has teeth to it. Parents and students can be held accountable."
"It's rewarding when you see kids graduate, or they come back a year later and they're doing great in school," she said.
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Every case is different.
"A kid might be missing school because they stay up too late at night, and don't want to get up; if they're older, maybe they just gave up on school.
"If it's a family issue, there are counseling opportunities out there to be added resources for the family," she said.
There may be drug problems at home, bullying at school, sometimes it is an enabling parent.
"Some parents are just so disconnected. They didn't finish school and think they came out OK. They pass that on to their children," Lane said.
"We're trying to help guide them in the right way, to emphasize how important your education is, and the consequences of not finishing school."
Douglas County Juvenile Probation Officer Tammy Morris has heard every excuse in the book from parents and students.
"A lot of parents don't realize they truly have this responsibility that their children must be in school until they are 18," she said.
While you might expect the students to try to explain away their absences, a lot of parents back-pedal truancy, too.
"Well, uh, I knew where they were and forgot to call."
"I get busy, I work. I've got x-number of kids I'm responsible for."
"My child doesn't ditch. I knew where they were."
Morris pointed out that an unexcused period of school that is missed is considered a truancy. It doesn't have to be an entire school day.
When working with truants, Morris said she doesn't leave it up to the parents.
"Here's what I tell kids. 'You're old enough. Some of this responsibility lies with you.'"
The truancy board is looking at elementary school students as well.
"Once a student misses at that age, they begin to suffer academically and socially. They fall behind, and there's a stigma to that, too," she said.
Students who are cited by the truancy board receive a $100 fine and community service.
For first-time offenders, the fine is held in abeyance depending on how well they do over the next 90 days. The community service can consist of being tutored, so the errant student can catch up.
A student's driver's license can be suspended or delayed for 30 days.
"They don't like that," Morris said.
Getting students to be responsible for their obligations — such as attending school — is good training for adulthood.
"People don't think truancy is that big of a deal," Morris said. "But, not only do you fall behind, you get into bad habits. If you don't show up for work, you're going to get fired. There are a lot of life lessons to be learned."
Any parent can contact the juvenile probation office to have their child drug-tested, or for counseling referrals.
Parents have immediate access to their children's attendance and scholastic records through online PowerSchool.
By the time a truancy situation gets to the prosecution level, Morris said it generally turns around.
"You really see things turn around," she said. "But it shouldn't have to take you looking at jail time to address your kids' educational needs. It's part of being a parent."
She likes to relate one of the district's success stories.
It involved a high school student who had been having attendance problems for at least two years. He would not get up for school, and his mother left him home when she went to work.
Dropout prevention specialist Rod Smalley and Deputy John Meyer made repeated trips to his house to get him to school.
Finally, the case reached the district attorney's office, and his parent was charged with educational neglect. The student was cited for truancy.
The citation was held on the condition that he get counseling and go to school.
Morris said attendance began to improve almost immediately.
He caught up with his classes, graduated early from high school, and attends Western Nevada College.
These are the outcomes which motivate Morris in working with kids.
"They are at an age where change can still happen," she said.