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Shelters feel effect of W.Va. truancy crackdown

Oct. 07, 2012 @ 04:04 PM

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Emergency shelters across the state are feeling the effect of a statewide effort to reduce student truancy.

More than half of a shelter’s beds are devoted to truancy cases since the West Virginia Supreme Court launched the initiative last year, said Steve Tuck, CEO of the Children’s Home Society, which operates 10 of the 16 shelters in the state.

“We happen to think the kids are best served in their own homes with support services,” Tuck told the Charleston Gazette. “There needs to be more emphasis on prevention. But we try to cooperate.”

The state Department of Education says about one in five West Virginia students had five or more unexcused absences last year and 9 percent statewide were truant more than 10 days.

The Supreme Court’s initiative pairs up the circuit court system, local school boards and social agencies to help keep students in school. Students who refuse to attend school can be removed from their homes and sent to shelters.

In Kanawha County, 21 students were placed in shelters or facilities with on-the-ground schools during the 2011-2012 school year. Ten of those students remain in placements.

“Where there’s an opening, we try to put them in the least restrictive environment,” said Duke Bloom, Kanawha County circuit court judge. “But it’s a last resort. It is a problem to find people placement. There were placement problems before for other folks that are charged with delinquency. It’s an issue that there is not enough space.”

Students who are removed from their homes are sent to wherever there is an available bed. Often, they are relocated to a different county or school district.

“It creates quite a challenge,” Tuck said. “If students are from a different county, they have to enroll in a completely new school. There are some problems with continuity.”

Nicholas County judges are emphasizing prevention more than placing students in shelters, said Levy Bragg, the county’s juvenile probation officer.

“Starting in circuit court is a big eye-opener,” Bragg said. “They understand, if they do not comply, they could be removed from their homes. They don’t want it. They take it pretty seriously. The vast majority of the parents are glad to have support of the court system in helping to get their children to school.”

“The majority of the children go through the probation and improve,” Bragg said.

Nicholas County launched an anti-truancy program four years ago that is seen as a statewide model. Last year, about eight students were placed in shelters.