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Truancy court could expand

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

SIKESTON -- A nonvoluntary truancy court implemented by the Sikeston R-6 School District has proved so successful over the past three years that morning tardies may soon be addressed by the court.

First implemented during the 2002-2003 school year, the Juvenile Court pilot program was created to reduce truancy and educational neglect among public schools. Court is held at 7 a.m. in the Board of Education Office meeting room every Wednesday.

"In almost every case, we've seen an improvement, obviously in their attendance," said Sikeston R-6 Superintendent Steve Borgsmiller. "We see the reduction in the number of referrals to the office, and we see the improvement in their grades."

Also over the last three years the truancy court program has netted the district more than $50,000 in average daily attendance funds that the district otherwise wouldn't have had, Borgsmiller told the district's Board of Education during Tuesday's regular meeting, which was held at the newly renovated Fifth Grade Center.

In its pilot year 67 students were sent to truancy court. Prior to court their average attendance was 76.8 percent, and after attending court the average attendance was 89.8 percent.

In 2003-2004, 46 new students were added to the program and 56 students returned to the program. Both groups average attendance was about 80 percent. After appearing in court, both groups' average attendance rose to 93 percent.

Last year only 20 new students were referred the program with average attendance increasing from 82 percent to 90 percent. Returning students' average rose from 77 percent to 89 percent.

"We believe if kids attended school regularly and with as little disruption as possible in their academic year, that their academic work will improve," said Bill Lawson, chief juvenile officer for Scott and Mississippi counties. "The kids that tend to miss school a lot tend to do less well than kids who attend every day."

And kids who are not in school regularly tend, as a group, to have more referrals to the office for behavioral problems than the rest of the general population, Lawson told the board. Students who don't attend school regularly can have other social issues that can make then known to juvenile court and also to the various social service agencies in the area, he said.

When the program started, students targeted included those who had missed over a certain number of days, Lawson said.

"Results in the first year were dramatic, in the sense of the kids identified, there was a large number who were never referred to the court because they got the message without us having to file charges and take them to court," Lawson said.

Numbers also indicate those children in kindergarten who were problematic in attendance and targeted by the program three years ago are now attending still at the 95-96 percent rate, Lawson said, adding the goal is for that to carry through the children's entire school career.

"This (success) is not by accident. There's a lot of work that goes into this," Borgsmiller said.

The program is a partnership between the Juvenile Court, the local school system, Missouri Division of Family Services, the county prosecuting attorney, local law enforcement officials, parents and children.

Borgsmiller concluded due to the program's continued success, he and Lawson have discussed asking the court to consider helping address some of the challenges the district has with tardies, specifically morning tardies.

In other business Tuesday, Borgsmiller said enrollment remains a little down this year with 1,708 students enrolled in grades K-5 and 2,017 students in grades 6-12 for a district total of 3,725. Borgsmiller also noted the district has enrolled three students who are displaced persons of Hurricane Katrina.