The West Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office has set its sights on school truancy, as it has become a serious issue in West Baton Rouge schools. Truancy takes its toll on students, schools, and the community.
Several studies show that a student’s lack of commitment to education is a risk factor for entering the Juvenile Justice System.
In the first week of June, WBRSO will form partnerships with the 18th Judicial District Attorney and Judges Offices, the West Baton Rouge Parish School Board, and nine local schools to address truancy for the upcoming school year.
For the first time in years, the West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office and local police department agencies have worked together on a new approach to tackle the issue of attendance in schools around the parish. The initiative involves tracking students, with the help of school officials, and intervening with a warning as soon as signs of absenteeism appear.
If the warning goes unheeded, authorities issue a criminal summons to parents.
During the 2018-19 school year, the Sheriff’s Office charged more than 90 parents with Improper Supervision of a Minor by Parent or Legal Custodian (LA Revised Statue 14:92.2) by allowing his/her minor child/children to be habitually absent from school.
According to the Sheriff’s Office, one Brusly High School student missed more than 50 days of school, with no stated family or medical issues.
“This law is in place to protect the rights of the children, who habitually miss days like this,” Captain Keith Kibby with the WBRSO Juvenile Division said. “It gives the child the best advantage of receiving an education.”
Since August 30, 2018, School Resource Officers around the parish made frequent contact with more than 260 parents/legal custodians who faced penalties for truancy because their child missed five or more unexcused days. In less than half of these cases, students were found to be facing hardships at home that allowed the school to make special provisions for them.
In scenarios where alternative interventions could not address truancy issues, the parents were summoned to Juvenile Truancy Court. Many parents had no excuse for their child being absent.
One of the most common reasons for several absences is the lack of transportation and behavioral problems with their child, parents have said.
If the parent fails to appear in court, a bench warrant will be issued for his/her arrest. When presented before a judge, parents that are found to be at fault when students are missing school, are subject to face up to 30 days in jail or 1 year of supervised probation with a $40 supervision fee and a fine of $25 plus $162 court cost. On top of these fines and supervision, the court may also require them to complete 40 hours of community service, family counseling, or a combination of the two.
For troubled children between the ages of 16 and 18, the court may advise the parent to consider the Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program, to keep the child out of the Juvenile Justice System.
The West Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office will continue to crack down on truancy because a misdemeanor mark on a parent’s criminal record is far smaller a consequence than the life sentence of a lack of education. With the new truancy program, WBRSO expects the attendance rates to increase in the 2019-2020 school year.
“As a community, we need to make certain that every child gets a fair right to their education, no matter what it takes,” Lt. Christian Conaway said.
Court officials argue that no matter how difficult it is, parents are responsible for their minor children.
“Transportation is not a valid excuse. Make sure your child gets on the bus,” a statement by the WBRSO said. “Be sure to ask for doctor’s excuses, keep copies of them, and follow up that the school did receive the excuse. Do not wait until it’s too late.”