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This makes me too sick to comment
on now...S. H.
News Article by Brett Bennett, Northwest Arkansas
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
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 Fayettevilles 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
A 17-year-old from Springdale planned to take the General
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
Schools attempt to contact parents and discipline the
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
suspension, and penalties can increase for more
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
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.
Its 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
One of the main reasons students dont graduate is
they skip too many
classes, Love said.
Students who arent in school may spend that time
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 Zimmermans order are parents must
report any absences by
their child to the court, and sick students are required
to get a doctors
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 months
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 cant just keep her in Siloam Springs all
day because its
convenient and you have errands to run, Zimmerman
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 students 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
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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