Judges visit Mercer County schools to talk truancy
September 25, 2012 ·
West Virginia schools are working with a new and stricter state attendance policy implemented by the state last year.
West Virginia students are now considered truant after missing 5 unexcused rather than 10 days. Unexcused absences as well truancy policies are defined differently from one county to the other.
County officials say that truancy has decreased in Mercer County to close to 20 percent since the school board implemented the new policy.
In the past education officials were limited with basically filing a complaint and having a parent arrested if their child didn’t show up for school on a regular basis.
In Mercer County, parents of students in kindergarten through fifth grade are now called to a pre-trial hearing and could face abuse and neglect charges. But it’s the students who face the judge, attending sixth through twelfth grade.
Kimberly Cox is one of those students. Last year she missed more than FIFTEEN days of school, without an excuse.
“I was put on probation for truancy," Cox said, "and then after that the rules are like really tough and just for arguing with my parents I got in trouble for that and I got in trouble for the domestic."
"I spent one night in that detention center and I cried the whole entire time. I don’t care what anyone says it was hard I cried the entire time and when you realize what it’s like you do not want to go back."
Cox lost her father last fall, which is considered an excused absence. Still, she admits to dodging the daily grind of school.
“I don’t like going to the doctor when I’m sick," she said. "I didn’t turn in my excuses and I messed up."
Cox says this year is different. She’s making good grades and doesn’t want to go back to the detention center or be put back on probation.
“When you’re on probation you have all of these other rules," she said, "and you don’t get to do the stuff that other people got to do and I regret missing those days because when you’re on probation there’s so many rules that can be broken so easily and you can get in trouble so much more easier."
Earlier this month, Mercer Judges, including Omar Aboulhosn, visited schools in the county. Cox looked forward to thanking him personally during his visit at Pikeview High School.
“It obviously validates what we’re doing," he said. "I mean I know that’s just one story of many. We’ve had many parents many kids come and tell us thank you for what you’ve done. What you’re doing has helped me."
"We’ve had partnes clearly parents have done it students may not see it as clearly but this child that we just spoke to she obviously saw it and she sees the benefit of it and I think most of the kids that we have in the program later on their lifetime I think they’ll look back and say gosh I’m glad they made me stay in school.”
Aboulhosn says the point of the program is to find out if there are any issues in the home that might need to be addressed. But in rare cases, he says some parents have simply given up.
“They’re frustrated with their child they just quit being a parent,” he said.
“So we’ve gone back through those homes through our probation department through the DHHR and provided services for them and trying to restore those families. Definitely keeping the children in school making sure they go to school making sure they do their work. And the folks that we have in the program the statistics show that it’s really working.”
Aboulhosn says truancy has reduced by 80 percent for the kids in the program and in in most cases the parents simply need help.
“What we have seen is parents who have teenagers who are head strong," he said, "and they just won’t listen. And they listen when they have a probation officer and a judge telling them to listen and it’s someone else who, you know, they can cry all the crocodile tears they want to; it’s not going to move us. We’re going to make sure you do the right thing."
"It’s different with when a parent sees those crocodile tears sometimes and they can’t overcome that emotion and they give in."
Typically the Department of Health and Human Resources manage truancy cases. In Mercer County the abuse and neglect cases is handled through the probation office. Some DHHR offices in other counties are struggling to keep up with the workload. A truancy probation officer was hired to ease the load.
“The workload on DHHR in Mercer County is a lot less compared to other parts of the state where they’re not doing it the same way," he said. "We’re all kind of doing it in different ways the same way. We’re all kind of doing it in different ways what works best for our communities and in Mercer County I think we’ve got a pretty good system.”
For Kimberly Cox, the system seems to have helped put her back on track. She’s now a 15-year-old freshman but on a track she says would make her dad proud.