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Jail, School


This makes me too sick to comment on now...S. H.

News Article by Brett Bennett, Northwest Arkansas Times


If a teenager in Washington County skips school too many
times, he could end up in jail.
This is the first school year for Truancy Court, modeled after a similar
program in Faulkner County, said David Hogue, deputy prosecutor for
Washington County. It deals with students ages 13 to 17 who frequently miss
school, he said.

Occasional skipping will not necessarily lead to a court appearance.
About 20 students appeared for the February court session. Their schools
included George Junior High School in Springdale, Fayetteville High School
and Fayetteville’s Ramay Junior High School. One boy was from West Fork.
The longest jail sentences were nine and 13 days for two students in the
Fayetteville alternative program. Circuit Court Judge Stacey Zimmerman gave
them a day in the Washington County Juvenile Detention Center for each day
they missed school since their last court appearance.
Those ordered to serve time were immediately taken into custody.
A 17-year-old from Springdale planned to take the General Educational
Development exam the next day.

His grandmother said she thought the judge was fair, but she wished he could
have served time after the test. Zimmerman said he could take it later.

Students are referred to Truancy Court after a Family In Need of Services
petition is filed with Washington County Juvenile Court, said April Shy, a
lawyer who represents teens at the hearings. The judge determines at their
first hearing whether they need court supervision and orders them to attend

Truancy is not a criminal offense in Arkansas, Shy said. The jailed students
were held in contempt of court for violating the judge’s order.
Schools attempt to contact parents and discipline the student before
referring them to juvenile court, Shy said.

A first offense for skipping school in Springdale leads to detention, said
Don Love, assistant superintendent. The second can lead to in-school
suspension, and penalties can increase for more infractions.
Schools usually report the student after 10 absences, whether excused or
unexcused, Shy said. Truancy hearings used to be held only when Zimmerman
reviewed petitions for other behavioral problems.
The Benton County Juvenile Court still handles truancy cases in conjunction
with other Family In Need of Services petitions, said Petie Cobb, chief
probation officer for Benton County Juvenile Court. Punishments for skipping
school are done on an individual basis, she said.
One advantage to Truancy Court is the parents and students see the judge with
others who have the same problem, and they receive the same type of
punishment, said Rhonda Wood, Faulkner County Juvenile Court judge.
“The families see everybody held to the same standard,” she said.
Most Washington County students miss fewer days after entering the program,
Shy said. One 17-year-old from the Springdale Alternative Center was released
from court supervision after attendance improved.
“It’s a tremendous program to get kids attending school,” said Jon
Gheen, director of the Fayetteville alternative program.
High school graduates are in a better position to compete for jobs than
dropouts, said Tim Weiss, Springdale alternative learning director.
One of the main reasons students don’t graduate is they skip too many
classes, Love said.
Students who aren’t in school may spend that time misbehaving and
committing crimes, Wood said.
The Faulkner County program started in 2007. Now, local teenagers know the
consequences of missing too much school, Wood said.
Conditions of Zimmerman’s order are parents must report any absences by
their child to the court, and sick students are required to get a doctor’s
note. They must go to school even if they have lost credit for classes
because of too many absences.
Parents found in contempt can be sentenced to jail or fined up to $500.
No parents were held in contempt at this month’s hearing, but one
Fayetteville mother was ordered to come back in April for a follow-up hearing
because her daughter missed school Jan. 13. The student went with her mother
to an eye doctor in Siloam Springs that day and never returned to class.
“You can’t just keep her in Siloam Springs all day because it’s
convenient and you have errands to run,” Zimmerman said.
The daughter spent the night in the detention center.
Most teens did not resist being taken into custody. One exception was a
15-year-old Ramay student.
Zimmerman told the student’s mother the girl would go to a foster home if
she continues skipping. The girl scoffed at that suggestion and Zimmerman
reprimanded her for the outburst. When the girl put her head down and refused
to speak to the judge, Zimmerman declared her in contempt and ordered her
arrested. A sheriff ’s deputy was called to haul her away. The girl shouted
expletives on the way out of the room.
The judge ordered the girl held overnight in the detention center,
mental-health screening and a drug test. Zimmerman said she would evaluate
the case the next day.

This story was published Tuesday, March 01, 2011

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