AIKEN, S.C. (WJBF)– Aiken school leaders are talking about a new initiative to keep kids in school and out of court. It’s called the “truancy intervention program.” The initiative has a task force that works with students and families, individually, to reduce court appearances.
The Aiken Board of Education takes attending school seriously. Officials said the truancy intervention program, or T.I.P., will help ensure every student gets a proper education. I spoke with the head of the T.I.P. task force, and she said consequences can be extreme.
“Thirty days in jail for every unexcused absence is what a judge can do to a parent, plus a fine,” Serena McDaniel, Assistant Solicitor for Juvenile Court said.
The truancy intervention program is a strategy that focuses on helping students who excessively miss school. Previously, these cases were immediately sent to court. Aiken County school officials feel it’s best to treat each case individually, and try to work with students and families before jumping into the legal process.
“A child not going to school doesn’t necessarily belong in jail, even though I know D.J.J. will put them in school while they’re there. But there are reasons for the truancy, and the more you do it, the more you realize that there are underlying problems,” McDaniel said.
She said red flags appear when a student has three unexcused absences in a row or a total five unexcused absences in a school year. School personnel then steps in to meet with the student and parent. She said cases will only be sent to the truancy intervention program when students continue to miss school, after that school-based meeting.
“If the intervention plan didn’t work at the school stage at the school that maybe the family didn’t take it very seriously, and moving it and putting it at the courthouse with the solicitor’s office involved, maybe they’ll realize ‘Hey, this is a problem, and this is serious,'” McDaniel explained.
The T.I.P. task force will meet every Tuesday to evaluate the performance of kids in the program. McDaniel said some students will be put in programs, otherwise known as “referrals”, tailored needs.
“We have jail tours. We have tours of D.J.J. We have CHOICES programs. We refer to mental health. We refer to substance abuse counseling,” McDaniel said.
She also said T.I.P. decides whether or not to keep students in the program. She explained if it isn’t effective for a kid, they will be terminated from the program and sent to court.
McDaniel explained the two most common underlying issues as to why kids miss school is they say they’re being bullied or have anxiety problems. She said the first truancy intervention case will be held in court on October 22nd, 2017.