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Aiken County announces new truancy policy

Posted: July 26, 2017 - 12:21am

Aiken County public schools will approach truancy a little differently this school year.

At the Board of Education's meeting July 18, Serena McDaniel, assistant solicitor and juvenile prosecutor for Aiken County, introduced a new initiative called the Truancy Intervention Program for students with multiple unexcused absences.

The program is a combined effort involving the Public School District, Solicitor's Office, Clerk of Court, Department of Juvenile Justice, Public Defender's Office, Sheriff's Office and Aiken Department of Public Safety.

Rather than suspending students or sending them to court when they accumulate five or more unexcused absences - or three or more consecutive unexcused absences - TIP will hold a hearing with the student, parents, case manager and solicitor to identify what the underlying issues are causing the absences and assist students and their families with solutions. Examples may include no transportation or a lack of desire to attend school.

"Sometimes it's the parent, sometimes it's the child. That's why we want to take an in-depth look at what is going on," McDaniel said.

Following the student's hearing, he or she will sign a contract agreeing to work toward those solutions. If the student continues to have unexcused absences, he or she will be sent to court.

"This program seeks to break that cycle through early intervention and by identifying and correcting the causes of truancy. Our goal is to give every Aiken County student the opportunity to stay in school," Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. said in a statement.

Aiken County is not the first South Carolina school district to try this approach. Organizers looked at similar programs in the York, Spartanburg and Lexington school districts prior to implementing their own. Aiken County modeled its program after York's plan, with a few of their own ideas.

According to a June 2017 article from The State newspaper, the program in York has caused the truancy rate to drop "dramatically" over the last 10 years.

According to TruancyPrevention.org, truants are more likely to drop out of high school or become involved in criminal activity.

The Aiken County program would give TIP participants an opportunity to attend "A Day in Court" where they would attend general sessions of court and have one-on-one time with the judge following the sessions.

"Our goal is to help families and students understand the importance of attending school. We do not have the desire to engage families in the court system due to truancy. I am thrilled that our solicitor is a proactive advocate for children in Aiken County," Aiken County Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford stated.

Truancy definitions and consequences vary from county to county. In Richmond County, a student is considered truant after five unexcused absences. At that time a note is mailed to parents to make them aware of the situation and notify them that if the unexcused absences continue, the student may be fined, have to perform community service or be incarcerated up to 30 days.

Columbia County's policy is similar, also sending notes to parents after the fifth unexcused absence. Following the 10th infraction, the student will be sent to juvenile court.

All students in Georgia are also at risk of losing their privilege of retaining a driver's license.

 

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