Franklin attacks delinquency problem

September 11, 1997


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Students thinking about cutting school will want to think again if Franklin County gets a state grant for a proposed delinquency prevention program.

Applied for by the Franklin County Human Services Administration and Children and Youth Services, the $100,000 grant from the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency would provide more ammunition for a unified countywide attack on school truants.

"It will be used as another tool for the district justices to sentence truants, especially the community service activities," said Doug Price, human services administrator.


The program is scheduled to start in January if the grant is issued.

Though most school districts have their own programs in place to deal with students who are habitually late or absent from school, the process tends to break down when cases are referred to the courts.

In Pennsylvania, school attendance is mandatory for students ages 8 to 16. The state allows 10 legal absences per semester.

Barring a medical excuse or other extenuating circumstances, most schools send a notice to parents after a child has missed three days illegally. On the fourth illegally missed day, the parents receive a citation from the district justice and can be fined up to $300 plus court costs.

But since state truancy laws changed a little more than a year ago, parents now have the option of pleading not guilty, which is becoming more common in cases where both parents work and the children are responsible for getting themselves to school.

If the district justice determines the parents have done everything they can to get their children to attend school without success, the child is found responsible and can be fined, sentenced to community service, or their driver's license can be suspended, among other penalties, said District Justice Larry Pentz, who works with the Waynesboro Area School District.

"When their driver's license is suspended, it becomes much more meaningful," Pentz said.

But each district justice handles truancy cases differently and there is no organized system to monitor students who are sentenced to community service, Pentz said.

"If the funding comes through, we'll have a countywide system for referrals from all of the district justice offices," Pentz said.

The grant money would be used to hire a community service coordinator who would recruit employers, local governments and organizations to provide work for students who are sentenced to complete community service, Price said.

The coordinator would also monitor the students' progress and serve as a liaison among the schools, district justices, students and employers.

"That's the weak link in the system now. We don't have the resources to monitor that," Pentz said.

Having a coordinator also would speed up the process of getting parents and children to court, which can take as long as 40 to 60 days now, Pentz said.

The money would also be used to hire case managers who would work with parents and children, Price said.

District justices, school district officials and common pleas court justices began meeting a year ago to come up with a countywide plan to handle truancy.

"Different programs are being tried. The information is being shared. We're making progress," Pentz said.

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