DA Truancy Program Expands for New School Year

The message of the successful anti-truancy program is simple: STAY IN SCHOOL OR RISK GOING TO JAIL. Officials expect to send over a hundred thousand warning notices to students with unexcused absences. Bill Hawkins heads the Juvenile Division of the Harris County District Attorney's office. He says the warning letter is explicit in that failure to return to school could mean the start of criminal prosecution.

photo of Bill Hawkins at press conference"This is a diversion program from beginning to end. That's why it's been so successful. We're not seeking punitive response, we're looking to change the conduct. I think that's why we get so much support from our social service partners, as well as the educators. The warning letter works on approximately four out of five kids. Last year was the first year it was under 80 percent, and normally, it's above that."

The threat of fines of up to 500-dollars and other corrective actions have lead to the reduction in cases on the juvenile docket. Hawkins says truants come in all ages.

"The youngest has been ten. We don't see a lot of them. The big problem year is the 9th grade — every year of the program, every district across the county."

Harris County DA Ken MagidsonTerry Abbott: "...9th grade is a particularly challenging year than other years."

Terry Abbott is with the Houston Independent School District. He says 9th graders make the sometimes difficult transition into high school.

"Kids at that age are getting opportunities to go out into the work force and to do different things, and for a variety of reasons are tempted not to come to school. And then, there's also the issue of there being far more over-age students in the 9th grade year than there are in other years. That is because in part, some students arrive at 9th grade and find themselves unable to do the higher level work at high school."

He adds some students who transfer from other countries come with little formal schooling, but are of high school age. They're then tested with opportunity enter the workforce instead of staying in school. Officials add the early intervention component of 'stay in school' may act as a deterrent to future criminal conduct.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF...Houston Public Radio News.

Starting from the top:
first: Anti-truancy program poster, stating truancy is a crime
second: Bill Hawkins, chief of the Harris County District Attorney's Juvenile Division
third: Harris County DA Ken Magidson
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