The Albany County Community Juvenile Services Board is working to combat student truancy as part of an ongoing effort to reduce juvenile criminal activity. A truancy intervention protocol recently adopted by the board will provide Albany County School District No. 1 and school resource officers with direction on how the Albany County Attorney’s Office will handle truancy cases, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said.
Wyoming statute defines habitual truancy as five or more unexcused absences. Under existing ACSD No. 1 policy, unexcused absences occur when a student misses school due to oversleeping, shopping, missing the bus, engaging in recreational activities or similarly unapproved reasons.
“We’re saying at up to three (unexcused) absences, the school district will send out a letter or investigate it, take steps on their own,” Trent said. “And then, three-four absences, the school official will sit down with parents — and that doesn’t prevent them from doing it prior to that — but they sit down with the parents and the child and they work out an action plan, how you’re going to resolve it.”
Trent said the juvenile services board is working with Big Brothers Big Sisters — an organization that currently partners with the school district — to develop a truancy diversion program.
If a student accumulates five or more unexcused absences, or the student’s absences are determined to be habitual, the matter would be referred to the organization.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters will create an attendance plan, which includes measurable outcomes to be signed by the student and parent,” Trent said. “And what they’re trying to do is to find out why the child is not going to school — and figuring out how can we help and get the child to school.”
If the student fails to comply with the plan, all of the documentation related to the absences would be forwarded to the county attorney’s office for review, Trent said. Depending on the circumstances, the office could potentially prosecute the student for truancy, prosecute the parent for educational neglect, or both.
“What we’re trying to do is have a stopgap before it reaches criminal prosecution — that we’ve attempted to divert and work with the family to gain compliance,” Trent said.
Trent said she noticed a trend between juvenile criminal activity and habitual truancy from school.
“What we’re trying to do is, by implementing this policy and trying to come up with a program for truancy, to decrease truancy, which we hope will decrease criminal activity — and in addition for the school district, it will increase, we hope, graduation rates,” she said.
Stuart Nelson, ACSD No. 1 director of state and federal programs, estimates he sees about three-five truancy cases each week during the school year. About five percent of students in the district are habitually absent, he said.
“Most of the time we get them worked out, where there’s issues like transportation,” he said. “And we can get that figured out and help them address that issue. And then, there’s some where kids just don’t come to school, and then the (school resource officers) assist us with some of that too, by doing home visits and things like that if we need them to.”
Currently, when a student has three or more unexcused absences, the school principal sends a letter informing parents their child has been absent, Nelson said. A second letter goes out if the number of unexcused absences rises to six, followed by referral to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Nelson added school principals have a lot of discretion when determining what qualifies as an unexcused absence.
“If a car breaks down, then, yeah, you can say, ‘it’s okay,’” he said. “I leave them a lot of judgment on that.”
The ACSD No. 1 School Board will need to revise its student attendance policy, which includes the district guidelines on truancy, Nelson said.
“The old one is very outdated,” he said. “An example … the state says truancy (occurs) after five days, and our policy says 10. And so, we just need to update some of that.”