A diversion program aimed at reducing student truancy has been launched for this school year at several Lancaster County districts.
The Lancaster County District Attorney’s Office offered the program as a pilot last year at Ephrata and Hempfield school districts.
DA’s Office Community Outreach Coordinator Sarah Fritz and a group of committed professionals from Ephrata and Hempfield school districts and COBYS conceived and designed the program.
This year, the program is being implemented at five districts: Elizabethtown, Ephrata, ELANCO, Manheim Township and School District of Lancaster.
Those districts are not necessarily high-risk for truancy issues; rather, those districts opted for the program which was offered to all public schools.
TRUANCY AND ITS IMPACT
Truancy, defined in state law as six unexcused absences from school in an academic year, is a widespread issue that impacts countless families here and nationwide.
It is well-documented that students who do not finish school are at higher risk to commit crimes. Drop-out situations almost always begin with truancy issues.
Also, truancy can land a student and their parent(s) in a courtroom.
After the sixth absence, a citation can be issued to the student and/or parent(s), summoning them to appear in district court. Conviction of the summary citation can include a fine, community service, referrals to a program or social services – even jail time.
The DA’s Truancy Diversion Program would fit with such court order and is designed to keep the family unit intact while getting the student back on track with regular attendance at school.
“We want every Lancaster County student to go on to achieve and lead a successful, crime-free life,” Lancaster County District Attorney Craig Stedman said. “That journey starts with each family taking advantage of the many resources our school districts have to offer in ensuring every child’s consistent attendance in class.”
Truancy can be a result of school avoidance, or a student’s reluctance to attend, and has numerous root causes. Those causes can include anxiety from depression or a bullying situation, or an overall apathetic attitude toward attending school.
Many treatment experts point to a family-oriented approach to addressing school avoidance with open conversations and healthy sleep and diet habits.
When a student receives six unexcused absences from school they can be referred to the Truancy Diversion Program, which consists of a two-hour session.
The family will receive a letter in the mail from the District Attorney’s Office directing the student and an adult guardian to be present for a scheduled meeting.
The program will be moderated by a professional with the understanding that they are simply there to guide the families through the schedule of the day and do not serve as a mediator between the family and the school or the family and the justice system.
Special thanks to: Dr. Thomas Foley, of St Joseph Children’s Health, for his work as a consultant; Triode Media Group for their multimedia contributions; and District Judge Tony Russell for volunteering at the Ephrata sessions last year.
Additional thanks to: Francie Wiker, an Ephrata social worker; Paul Moore, Ephrata School District’s School Resource Officer; Melvin Frye, a Hempfield social worker; and Holly Hardin of COBYS.
MEDIA CONTACT: Brett A. Hambright, 717-295-2041; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @BrettHambright