Officials have seen a correlation between poor school attendance — truancy — and criminal acts. Some of those officials have been monitoring and trying to abate truancy through the Truancy Court program.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Michael Montero presented the latest Truancy Court report to the Humboldt County School Board at the Aug. 13 meeting.
Judge Montero said the Truancy Court grew out his desire to have a positive impact on the lives of young adults. “As a new judge back in 2011,” he said, “I was only on the bench two years [and] I was seeing what I thought was a pretty significant number of young adults [who] were in the criminal justice system.” Judge Montero determined that some had attended school up to the ninth or tenth grade, others obtained their General Education Diploma.
Judge Montero said he was seeing a correlation between poor school attendance leading to criminal acts and eventually young adults entering the adult court system. He reached out to District Superintended Dr. Dave Jensen and Lowry High School Principle Ray Parks to create a truancy board to address this issue in the County.
Truancy and absenteeism are not considered the same action. Truancy is an unexcused absence from school.
Children who miss 10 or more days of school per year are at risk, even if they miss a day here and there, rather than a consecutive 10-day break. Children who miss too much school generally fall behind on assignments, have poor grades, have a difficult time catching up the work they missed, interrupt the flow of the classroom, are more likely to drop out of school and can show signs of delinquent behavior.
The school district follows the Nevada Revised Statutes (NRS) related to attendance. NRS 392.130 defines “truant” as: “...a student shall be deemed a truant who is absent from school without the written approval of his teacher or the principal of the school, unless the student is physically or mentally unable to attend school. The teacher or principal shall give his written approval for a student to be absent if an emergency exists or upon the request of a parent or legal guardian of the student.”
According to NRS 392.210, the failure of parent or guardian to comply with provisions is a misdemeanor: “Any parent, guardian, or other person who has control or charge of any child and to whom notice has been given of the child’s truancy as provided in NRS 392.130 and 392.140, and who fails to prevent the child’s subsequent truancy within that school year, is guilty of a misdemeanor.”
In addition, the statues determine that “Any child who has been declared a truant three or more times within one school year must be declared a habitual truant” per NRS 392.140(1).
The Truancy Court has evolved over the years, Judge Montero said. “That first year ... we had 31 students that we served in the Truancy Advisory Board and … all 31 of those students went to advisory board and came … went right through to the courthouse,” he said. Montero said that has changed. “Where a lot of the kids that are being referred to the Truancy Advisory Board are being dealt with there, so the Truancy Advisory Board is working with [the students] to try to remediate the issue before a referral is made to the court.”
Other changes include a citation issued early in the process. , Students “didn't get cited for habitual truancy until the very end so if they didn't succeed, if they went through advisory board and maybe truancy court and then it was determined that they weren't making adequate progress, then they would receive a citation,” Judge Montero said. The citation requires the student to appear before the juvenile court master. The student is given the option to either accept the ticket which will be added to his or her record, or to enter a diversion program. If the juvenile agrees to attend the diversion program and successfully completes the requirements, the ticket is retracted, and the record is expunged.
Under NRS 392.144, if a student has too many unexcused absences, his or her driver's license will be taken away for 30 days on first offense and 60 on second. If a student has yet to obtain a license and has numerous unexcused absences, that student won't be able to get one until the situation is rectified. Students will have to print a form available on the Department of Motor Vehicles' website which their respective schools will sign off on. Only then will they be able to obtain a license.
In the event a student has too many unexcused absences, a truancy officer will confiscate that student's license and mail it to the Department of Motor Vehicles. If a student breaks the rules a third time, he or she will have to become compliant and repeat all the steps needed to obtain a driver's license, including having a picture taken. If a student turns 18 years old during his or her ineligible period, that student will still not be able to obtain a license.
Montero said Truancy Court has many options to assist students and families. He said the juvenile department has a youth level of service tool which identifies the individual’s needs and risks. He said that Juvenile Probation Officer Colette Hansen uses the tools in conjunction with home visits to help the family and student to address the truancy. Sometimes, Judge Montero said, it’s just a matter of adjusting the student’s schedule or providing transportation to school.
Montero said his involvement in the Truancy Court is up to the Board. “My work as a judge in this community doesn't mandate that I have a truancy court, that I preside over a truancy court or that I'm really anyway involved in truancy issues,” he said. “I came here eight [or] nine years ago to try to help the school district and I saw that maybe the courts could offer some assistance.”
Dr. Jensen and the Board were quick to thank Judge Montero for his work and dedication to the youth of Humboldt County. “I think I collectively speak for the Board thank you for all that you do,” Jensen said. “I know in the conversations I've had with our advisory court representatives — we see the difference the effort makes.”