Citing the need to address the problem of chronic truancy in our community, the Monroe County Circuit Court Board of Judges announces the creation of a new Truancy Court. The new Truancy Court is a cooperative effort between the Board of Judges, Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal, both Monroe County schools, and the Monroe County Probation Department.
Why take up valuable court time for this seemingly minor offense? Because research indicates that truancy is the harbinger of future delinquent and criminal behavior. It is the strongest indicator of a child and family in crisis. As Juvenile Court Judge Stephen R. Galvin notes: “When I review the record of a habitual delinquent, the first entry is always the same – ‘Truancy’ If a child has a problem with habitual truancy, it is invariably reflected in future juvenile and criminal behavior.” Further, chronic truancy is linked to a wide range of social problems, including substance abuse, poverty, and poor physical and mental health.
In the past, the process of bringing charges against chronic truants was cumbersome and slow, resulting in long delays between the truant behavior and adjudication. In some cases, students dropped out of school, or were expelled, before their cases were heard. This left students with the perception that there were no immediate consequences for truancy.
The new Truancy Court is designed to provide a hearing on truancy referrals in the minimum amount of time. Judge Galvin notes that “the key to prevention is immediate and effective intervention; with the child and the child's family.”
Following adjudication, students referred to the Truancy Court are required to appear each Thursday morning in Judge Galvin's courtroom between the hours of 7:00 and 8:00 a.m. Regular reports on attendance, class participation, grades, and disciplinary actions are provided to the Court by the child's school. Every week, each child must demonstrate that they have:
1. Attended all their scheduled classes.
2. Completed their assignments and actively participated in class.
3. Not disrupted class or posed a disciplinary problem for their school.
Because chronic truancy is best addressed with the participation of the whole family, parents are required to attend with their children. “We plan to work with families to identify issues and provide services specifically tailored to the needs of each child and family,” says Chief Probation Officer Linda Brady.
Upon successful completion of the program, the charge of habitual truancy will be dismissed. “Our goal is to work with the schools, juvenile probation, and other community organizations to address the issues underlying poor school attendance and to help students succeed,” says Prosecuting Attorney Chris Gaal. “Truancy Court is a good model that has been successfully used in many jurisdictions to reduce educational failure and solve problems.”
“The Truancy Court is designed to reduce truancy and the delinquency,” says Judge Galvin. “The program will be evaluated on an ongoing basis to ensure that it is effective in meeting these goals.”
The Board of Judges, the Prosecuting Attorney, and the Probation Department are using existing staff for the new Truancy Court. No additional funding has been necessary to implement this program.
MCCSC Vice President Mike Shipman was involved in the development of the new truancy court. He welcomes the new community partnership, saying, “We view this as an important prevention tool that can make a real difference in the lives of our students.”