BROOKVILLE — With the school year well underway, school and county officials are stressing the importance of going to school, and going to school on time.
But compared to last year, officials have more reason to be hopeful that truancy will not be as much of an issue.
In September, an addition to the county’s truancy protocol was finalized, which will, according to Children & Youth Services Director Brian Mowrey, attempt to address the problem of truancy before it spirals out of control.
“Truancy is not really a new problem, but we’re trying to develop new ways of dealing with it,” he said.
Last spring, Mowrey, along with officials from area school districts including Brookville, Brockway, DuBois, Punxsutawney and Jeff Tech; Juvenile Probation; the county’s district judges; and President Judge John H. Foradora began developing a plan to address the problem of truancy.
And after several meetings, they were able to decide on a new approach.
After one illegal absence, a parent will have the opportunity to work with the school district, the child and CYS to develop a Truancy Elimination Plan (TEP), which gives all parties involved the opportunity to work together on a plan/contract in the hopes of eliminating future unexcused absences or tardies.
Although TEPs have been used for many years, Mowrey said this is the first year they are offering this opportunity to the parents at such an early stage.
“We want to intervene on a preventative side instead of a reactive side,” he said, because addressing the problem at an early stage can save everyone involved time and frustration.
According to compensatory law in Pennsylvania, students who demonstrate a continuous pattern of absenteeism or do not comply with the school’s attendance policies may be dropped from the rolls, face expulsion or be placed in alternative education.
Furthermore, after six unexcused absences, students who are of compulsory attendance age will be referred to the district magistrate and CYS.
“(The plan) is offered assistance before it becomes formalized from district judges,” Mowrey said. “The school is able to offer assistance long before it’s a formal process of referral, or process with the courts.”
Mowrey said there are many factors that lead to the issue of truancy which is plaguing not only Jefferson County’s districts, but districts across the entire country.
“There is no easy answer to the problem of truancy,” he said. “The truancy problems that occur could be as simple as a child that just wants to skip school for a couple of days, or way more complex — child abuse, laziness, parental attitudes toward school.”
But among the plethora of factors which cause truancy, negative parental attitudes toward education are a leading factor.
“If a parent doesn’t put value on education, that attitude is also maybe passed onto the child,” Mowrey said.
And that is one of the major issues the group of school and county officials is trying to combat.
“Our overall attempt is to collectively show that we value children’s education,” he said. “We are here to assist and make sure we pass that value on to the children in the county and the families.”
According to Brookville Jr.-Sr. High School Vice-Principal Ruthanne Barbazzeni, truancy usually becomes an issue during the second half of the school year, around January.
At that time, CYS become overwhelmed with referrals from area districts; therefore, the earlier availability of the TEP may also alleviate the pressure on CYS.
“The hope is that yes, it will, in essence, eliminate truancy,” Mowrey said. “The overall goal is to increase school attendance — to really increase the daily attendance and to have the kids put that value on education, without having the desire to skip.”
Mowrey said the potential negatives of truancy are “somewhat unbelievable” when examining statistics.
“An overwhelming amount of truant students end up in the state prison population,” he said. “There is an appearance of a correlation.”
So Mowrey’s hoping county residents realize how negative truancy can become.
“Hopefully, the community and the general public will recognize it’s not just a school problem, but it can also make our county better as a whole, too,” he said.
Although the group of county and school officials is hopeful the new protocol will aid in the elimination of truancy, Mowrey said there is still work to be done.
The group plans to meet in November or December to discuss what’s next.
“The group will continue to work and improve on and adjust this as we need to, so that we can hopefully make progress,” he said. “Our work’s not over. We didn’t just develop this new protocol and leave it there. We want to continue to work and make it better.”