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Officials say truancy program a success

August 08, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - They find them at arcades, at home and roaming around town. But the success of a new program means more of them might be found in the classroom.

Officials announced Monday that the Washington County Truancy Intervention Program that began earlier this year was a success, and that eight of the 10 targeted cases were resolved without court action. The program identified 10 students 12 to 15 years old who were most often absent from school, then provided assistance, monitoring and court action to pressure students to go to school.

"If we have one student who is not attending school, that's too many," said Carol Costello, coordinator of alternative programs and student services.

The Maryland State Department of Education classifies students as chronically truant if they miss 20 percent or more of a school term or semester. Costello said there are 85 to 100 students in the county each year that the state considers chronically truant.

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The students targeted by the county's program were absent 50 to 60 days during the school year -or 27 percent to 33 percent of the time, she said.

The program was started by officials within the school system, the Washington County State's Attorney's Office and the Department of Juvenile Services.

The students were monitored for a six-week period. During that time, four of the 10 had zero absences, Costello said.

During the monitoring period, officials discovered other issues with four of the students that required additional services, she said. These issues could have been juvenile crime or social services needs.

During the same period, petitions were filed against two of the students who continued to be absent from school. A court order was issued to place one of the students in a shelter for a short time, she said.

A Washington County District Court case is pending in the case of the other student.

Under the program, along with possible jail time for parents, students could face action from the court system.

Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said that Washington County has the best attendance rate in the state among all grade levels, and she would like to see those numbers improve. According to state department data, attendance rates at the elementary, middle and high school levels are all greater than 95 percent.

"Though this is excellent, it's still not good enough," she said. "If the student is out of school, then we cannot educate them. And it's the students who are most truant who need our services the most."

Scott Beal, area supervisor for the Department of Juvenile Services, said the county's truancy program is a proactive approach to curbing problems like juvenile crime or drug use.

Another group of 10 students will be monitored during the upcoming school semester, Costello said.

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