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In-school truancy officer program works, lawmakers told

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Initial efforts with in-school juvenile probation officers in seven counties have proven effective at reducing truancy, members of a legislative interim committee learned Monday.

One reason, said Circuit Judge Eric O'Briant, is that the in-school officers can intervene quickly when a student reaches five unexcused absences -- unlike the minimum four to six weeks needed to go through the traditional process of obtaining a juvenile petition in court.

"In the life of a teenager, six weeks can very quickly turn from truancy to a disaster," Lacy told an interim committee on education.

O'Briant oversees Logan County, the first county in West Virginia to have an in-school probation officer.

For the past school year, the officer received 1,972 referrals for absences from the county's six junior high and high schools, and resolved all but 51 without going to court.

"We were able to resolve well over 85 to 90 percent of the issues within the schools," he said.

Mike Lacy, director of probation services for the West Virginia Supreme Court, said seven county school boards have in-school juvenile probation officers, including Boone, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monongalia, Putnam and Wayne counties.

While not a cure-all, the in-school officers have been an effective part of a comprehensive approach to addressing truancy in those counties, he said.

"It's an important part of a component to deal with a truancy issue that we are just wallowing in all across West Virginia," he said.

"The concept is to be more quickly able to address attendance and behavioral issues at the local level," he said.

While the county school boards pay the salaries and all expenses for the in-school officers, the officers are employees of the Supreme Court, Lacy said.

Asked whether the in-school officers are cost-effective, Lacy noted that 80 percent of the inmates currently in state prisons were high-school truants or dropouts.

"The question is, at what end will we pay the cost? Will it be now or later?" he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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