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Court program will target truancy

When a child misses school once, he or she might have skipped school just for the fun of it.

Monday, November 15, 1999

When a child misses school once, he or she might have skipped school just for the fun of it.

If that same child misses several days and does not bring in a doctor’s excuse, it might be a symptom of a greater problem.

Lori Hankins makes sure a childhood rebellion doesn’t become a truancy habit.

The Lawrence County Juvenile Court mediation coordinator was hired to target truancy at the middle school and elementary school grade levels through an Ohio Supreme Court grant in August.

Trained in social work and elementary education, Mrs. Hankins plans to begin mediation sessions with suspected truant students, parents and school officials as early as January.

"I’m real excited about it," Mrs. Hankins said. "I think this is a good way to assist parents and schools in communication. Mediation is being used all over in different areas. And with truancy, what’s really good with this is that it provides the opportunity for the school and the parents to get together and to try to solve the dispute."

After five unexcused absences in a nine-week period or 10 in a semester, students in the four participating schools will be considered for mediation, Mrs. Hankins said.

Schools participating in the program this year include Rock Hill Middle School, Dawson-Bryant Middle School, Dawson-Bryant Elementary School and Fairland West Middle School, she added.

"Once the students are red-flagged, we’ll then set up an appointment with all parties involved," Mrs. Hankins said. "In a lot of cases, truancy is not the fault of the child or the parent. There are a lot of causes out there other than a child wanting to play hooky. The parents and the school system need to identify those issues that are causing absences."

Fairland West Principal Mike Whitley isn’t too concerned with truancy at the middle school – it doesn’t happen that often. But if one child can be prevented from not coming to school, the program will be worth it, he said.

"We don’t have a great number of truant problems, but they are still there and they need to be addressed," Whitley said. "If the children are not in school, they cannot learn. When you run into a child who’s not doing so well, you can usually look at attendance, and a majority of the time, that child is just not here. Attendance is vital to the educational process."

None of the four schools chosen to participate in this pilot program have a severe problem with truancy, Mrs. Hankins added. The whole point of the program is prevention, she said.

"I’m the mediation coordinator, and I will be working as a mediator," Mrs. Hankins said. "I’m the third neutral party. My job is to assist parents and schools into coming up with a workable solution to the problem as far as truancy is concerned. It’s interesting to target the younger age group to try to prevent problems with those students as they get older. I believe it can deter additional problems in the future as far as high school attendance."

And parents have an equal stake in making sure their children attend school. In the State of Ohio, not only can children of middle school age be charged with truancy, parents also can be charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, Mrs. Hankins said.