Frederick County Delegation To Vote This Week On Truancy Bill

It would set up a truancy reduction court to address the problem.

Frederick, Md (KM) A vote on whether to move forward with a bill to let Frederick County set up a truancy reduction court is expected this week by the Legislative Delegation.

The measure was discussed last week by lawmakers. “It’s a four-phase, six- to nine-month program that engages young people with a variety of help, as well as their families, so they can better appreciate the importance of attending school,” says State Senator Karen Lewis Young, the bill’s sponsor. She says this will would add Frederick County to the list of counties which have truancy reduction courts.

The Truancy Reduction Court Program has been set up in  Wicomico, Dorchester and Somerset Counties on the Lower Eastern Shore. The background material on these courts says they’re designed to improve school attendance, and positively affect the  youth and their families’ attitudes about education through a nurturing process. A court-appointed case manager determines the reasons for the students’ absences, navigates school requirements, facilitates communication  and refers  students and families to services.

At last Friday’s Delegation meeting, Magistrate Joanie Raymond Brubaker expressed support for the truancy reduction courts. As a magistrate, Brubaker has presided over juvenile delinquent cases. “A lot of these youth, by the time they reach us, they have been disengaged from school for many years. Attendance is a problem in general. It’s gotten worse since the pandemic as everyone knows. But I find this is really a critical part of trying to keep youth out of the juvenile delinquency system,” she said. “Ultimately, it’s going to save us money in the long run if we’re not having to offer them services at this point.”

According to a recent report, absenteeism in Frederick County Public Schools has more than doubled from pre-pandemic levels.

Brubaker says there are a number of reasons why some kids don’t attend school, such as mental health issues, substance abuse by family members, homelessness, or bullying.

Frederick County Public School has set up a Truancy Reduction Council where students are referred if the less intense measures to get them to go back to school aren’t working. This panel also connects students and their families with community resources, and creates incentives for students and their families. “But if kids just aren’t coming, and families aren’t cooperating, they’re really nothing that they’re able to do,” says Brubaker. “And the only tool in the toolbox that State’s Attorney’s Office has is to bring truancy charges against the parent.  And I will tell you that’s not effective. It’s not getting them back in the school system.”

Parents who fail to send their children to school can face misdemeanor charges in Maryland. If parents are convicted, they could be facing fines or jail time. “:We’ve had three parents who have their youth, their students, sent to this program. And then their case has been set to the District Court,”: said Laura Wilt, the Chief Assistant State’s Attorney for the Juvenile Diversion Program. “We’ve offered therapy. They wouldn’t engage. They wouldn’t go to the therapy.”

In other action, legislators last Friday re-elected Delegate Jesse Pippy as their Chairman, and State Senator Bill Folden as Vice Chairman.

By Kevin McManus