The Starke County Prosecutor’s Office, juvenile probation department and child protection services are joining forces with local schools in an effort to address truancy issues. Prosecutor Nicholas Bourff says this is becoming a significant problem in some schools, where students have anywhere from 30 to 40 unexcused absences. Beginning with the new semester that starts this week, he says the new program will offer a step-up approach.
“When a student has three unexcused absences, there will be a phone call to the parents or guardians of the child. That will be noted. This will be done by the school. They’ll be sent a letter of the school attendance policy, and the school’s attendance officer will place them on a watch list,” Bourff said.
If a student’s attendance problems continue and five unexcused absences are recorded, Bourff says a next step is another phone call from the school, followed by a certified letter sent to the child’s home. They will also have to sign an attendance agreement and meet with the school attendance officer. At that point the juvenile probation and prosecutor’s offices will also be notified.
After seven unexcused absences, Bourff says the parents will be referred to Project Attend. At that time a meeting will be scheduled between the parents, school administrators, juvenile probation, the prosecutor’s office and a DCS family case manager. He says the goal is to figure out what is keeping the child from getting to school.
“They’ve been running this program in LaPorte County. And they said in some of these meetings they’ve discovered that it was simply a matter of the family didn’t have an alarm clock. DCS helped them get one, and for them it solved the problem in this one case,” Bourff said. “For other cases it’s been a transportation issue, the timing of the parent’s work schedule, and DCS has helped with that. The goal is to figure out what the problem is there and try to find a solution that works for everybody.”
Bourff says if the problem lingers and the student gets to 10 unexcused absences, the matter will be referred to his office for review and possible criminal charges of educational neglect against the parents.”
“The goal is not to punish parents. We’re not trying to set traps for anyone. We’re trying to set it up to where parents have every opportunity to address the problem. The goal is to get kids to school. It’s becoming a problem, and we’re hoping this is a solution to fix the issue.”
Bourff says attendance records will zero out at the start of the new semester for the sake of this program. He also notes the guidelines only apply to unexcused absences.