DA works to abolish truancy

By Casey Peacock: PNT Staff Writer

The Ninth Judicial District Attorney’s office is spearheading the Abolish Chronic Truancy program in an effort to curtail truancy in both Roosevelt and Curry counties.

“It definitely is a significant problem in both counties and we are taking steps to prevent it,” said Ninth Judicial Assistant District Attorney Ben Cross.

The push for the program comes from the fact that 75 percent of prison inmates nationwide did not graduate from high school, and statistics show truants have a higher likelihood of engaging in criminal conduct, said District Attorney Matt Chandler.

According to school officials, each school within the Portales school district follow similar guidelines if a problem occurs. At all the schools, attendance is monitored daily and verified asexcused or unexcused absences.

Cross stated that when a child reaches five unexcused absences, a certified letter is sent to the parents in an attempt to arrange a meeting to discuss the absences. After 10 unexcused absences, a second letter is sent informing them any more absences will prompt referral to the Juvenile Probation Office. If JPO determines a parent or guardian is responsible for the absences, the case is referred to the district attorney’s office and the case is reviewed for prosecution.

A truancy statute was enacted in July 2004 that holds parents responsible for their child’s school attendance. Seldom enforced, prosecutors have now made it the center point of the ACT program. Penalties can range from a fine of up to $100 for the first offense to $500 and six months in jail for a second or subsequent offense, Cross said.

At the elementary and junior high level that problem is not as severe as when the students begin to get older and are more apt to skip class. In the event that a student is encountering more than an average amount of abs ences school officials try to get to the root of the problem and resolve any issues, said Todd Morris, principal at Valencia.

“At this age most of the time it’s the parents not getting the student to school,” Morris said.

“It’s important for us to have all the students (in both counties) going to school, Cross said.

Once school starts, the DA’s office will be actively visiting area schools to encourage students to stay in school and emphasize, especially to the younger students how important school is, Cross said.

As students reach the high school level, the matter can become more serious. Students are given the opportunity to verify any absences that they have. If a student lies about any absences they receive one day of in-school detention for the first offense. Letters are sent home to parents at absences three, seven and 10 days, said Mark McAfee, assistant principal at Portales High School.

“We want everyone to have the opportunity to verify the absence before we start the discipline process,” McAfee said.

McAfee stated that only a handful of students pose a problem in this area. The school works with the student and family before to resolve issues before filing with the DA. Once that happens, it’s out of the school’s hands, McAfee said.

“We try to get it taken care of at the home level as soon as we possibly can,” McAfee said.

Freedom Newspapers Writer Sharna Johnson contributed to this article.