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Schools right to get tough on truants

Playing hooky from school has been an entertaining story line since the early days of public education.

From Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Tom Sawyer” in the 1870s to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” in the 1980s, books and movies have celebrated skipping class as youthful adventure — with an occasional lesson learned.

But the reality of truancy today is no laughing matter.

Fractured home lives, drugs and other problems contribute to a growing number of students regularly missing school days and falling behind in their education. During the 2012-2013 school year, 3,088 Cabell County students had a truancy problem, defined as accumulating five or more unexcused absences. That was 122 more than the previous year.

For too many, it is the first step on a long road to trouble.

Last year, local judges led a new initiative to bring students and their parents to court to stress the importance of attending school and the legal consequences they could face if they don’t. This year, the Cabell district has added a new school-based probation officer to help get the message out and the kids in class.

With the school year just underway, attendance numbers show the new position is much needed. About 150 middle school students had five or more unexcused absences in the first 12 days of school, prompting house calls from the new probation officer.

Jackson plans to intervene with families when students reach three unexcused absences, as part of a diversion program to help them avoid a truant designation. The officer often will develop a “contract” that the parents and the student must follow.

That can include random drug screens, home visits and curfews. If families fail to observe those provisions, the case can move to court.

Jackson’s first focus is on the middle schools, but the truancy problem is severe for lower grades as well. At several elementary schools, more than 30 percent of the students had five or more unexcused absences last year, and only two had less than 10 percent. Certainly, at that level, the parents have to be held responsible.

 

— From the Aug. 26

Herald-Dispatch in Huntington

 

 

 

Protecting children

The Select Committee on Child Abuse and the Women’s Caucus in the Legislature have been spending the past few months digging deeply into the gritty facts behind the major problem of abuse toward minors in West Virginia.

We applaud them for bringing in specialists, State Police and other experts to discuss the many factors that contribute to every facet into reporting and prosecuting cases of child abuse.

Recently, one of the members of the caucus, Delegate Linda Phillips, D-Wyoming, spoke to The Register-Herald expressing how West Virginia State Code is limited in what it can do to protect children.

Thankfully, they are bringing this issue to light by proposing a new level of legislation that will provide a set of laws that will charge potential abusers with misdemeanors.

The article reminds us that occasionally, a parent might get embroiled in household activities, and may for one moment lose track of their child. That child may find itself in a precarious situation that is pointed out by a neighbor to authorities. We understand that for some parents, this one moment can be terrifying and a complete accident.

As the law stands now, such an incident can only be charged and tried as a felony. Hardly a fair consequence for a parent who is trying hard and has made a mistake they are not likely to make again.

This new proposed legislation would create an opportunity for a “wake-up” call by authorities. Now the local law enforcement is aware of potential issues and Child Protective Services is on alert. Prosecutors have more in their pocket when it comes to prosecuting these types of cases.

It’s a good level of legislation that could help put proper authorities on alert for a child’s well being and can only benefit children who may be in harm’s way.

Additionally, the committee is looking at making the penalties even tougher when abuse leads to a child’s death.

Attention child abusers: the committee’s good work has just begun.

— From the Aug. 27

The Register-Herald in Beckley

 

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