Minden Press-Herald

Tuesday
Sep 30th

Truancy program widely known

The 26th Judicial District Court is internationally recognized for its program aimed at reducing the school dropout rate.

"In 2007 we won an international award," said Richey Jackson, director of the Bossier/Webster Truancy Center of the district attorney's office. "It was an award for "Program of the Year" out of the entire world, that keeps up with attendance and dropout rates."

Louisiana has approximately 14 K-5 truancy centers.

"The Bossier-Webster office is unique because we cover K-12," said Jackson "We are very focused on trying to keep the kids in school."

The district attorney's office works with the Webster Parish School Board to make sure kids are staying in school.

"We have a system that is very effective," said Jackson.

There were a total of 1,581 referrals from Webster Parish schools this year.

Referrals happen when a student misses five unexcused days of school.

Parents of those students receive a letter from the 26th Judicial District Court.

"That letter will take care of 70 to 80 percent of the problems," Jackson said. "The letter explains to parents that if the students continue to miss and get eight absences then they get a hearing."

At the hearing, parents and officers can sign an informal agreement to keep the student in school. If the agreement is broken, students are taken to either Teen or Juvenile Court, depending on their discipline history.

Of the referrals received this year 1,008 letters were mailed to parents, 401 students were given a hearing, 85 went to Teen Court and 61 students went to Juvenile Court.

Students who are taken to court are given letters of probation at the beginning of the following school year.

"Rather than notify the parents with a letter at five missed days, we send letters at three missed days," Jackson said. "We focus on those students, hoping that it cuts down on the number of kids that repeat the process.

"We want to keep kids out of court if we can," he continued. "We are trying to stop a bad situation from becoming worse."

The truancy center not only focuses on keeping kids in school, but also tries to address why students may not be in attendance.

"We also try to find out where the family or student might need help," Jackson said. "We point the family to services that are available and provide resources."

Eighty percent of the kids who come in through K-5 are given services.

"It's not about threatening to take parents to court," Jackson said. "Taking someone to court is the absolute last resort, especially a deprived family.

"They have enough stresses in their lives without taking them to court, but sometimes that is necessary," he continued. "There are many resources that should be available but aren't."

Kevin Washington, Child Welfare and Attendance Supervisor with the Webster Parish school system, agrees with Jackson.

"Often times people think the process is punitive," Washington said. "However, we are here to help the student and their family.

"In our area many families do not have access to healthcare," he continued. "Students are legitimately sick, and going to the doctor is not an option for their family."

Washington said that, when possible, resources are provided to the family.

"There are also those parents of younger children who need to be reminded that it is their responsibility to make sure to monitor the child's attendance," Washington said. "We also try to reward students for having good behavior and attendance."

Earlier this month, approximately 700 students were treated to a free Captains' baseball game, complete with drink and hotdog.

"We are very appreciative of the Captains for providing this reward to those students with good attendance," Washington said.

Jackson said the truancy program would not be possible without funding from the state and Harrah's Louisiana Downs.

"Funding to monitor truancy for grades K-5 is received from the state," Jackson said. "Every year we have to battle for it (funding). We almost lost it last year."

Funding for middle and high school programs comes from proceeds from Harrah's Louisiana Downs.

"There is a statute where a percentage of the gaming profits go to the 26th judicial district, which is Bossier and Webster," said Jackson. "The 26th judicial district is about as tough as it could be (on truancy)."

"The truancy center program has been such a help with attendance," Washington said. "We are fortunate to have a wonderful collaboration with them and the district attorneys office."

Washington is proud that Webster Parish has above-average attendance when compared to the rest of the state.

"Attendance is so important to student achievement," he said. "We find that when students are present and engaged they do much better in school."

 

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