Truancy Court established in Cassville

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Court aims to hold students accountable for attendance

Previous generations may remember dreaded truancy officers who would find wayward children playing hooky from school, hauling them back in to face the wrath of their parents and teachers.

Associate Circuit Judge Johnny Cox, in conjunction with the juvenile office, the Barry County Judicial Center and Cassville schools, is working on a plan to put a modern-day truancy court in place.

Aiming for a less dramatic approach, the goal is keep kids in school, help them get good grades, and be as successful and responsible as possible.

While Cox and the school are still working out all the details, the basic end goal is to encourage and enforce good attendance at school, as well as to keep behavior problems in check.

"What we're looking at doing is having the school provide children having difficulty with their attendance and also look at behavior issues as well," Cox said. "Initially, the focus will be on attendance. Lots of times, those two go hand-in-hand anyway. And, trying to bring those kids and parents in and have them have more direct contact with a juvenile officer and receive frequent updates from the officer and the school."

Cox said if necessary, the program might evolve into having a docket where the students and families are required to attend truancy court to provide updates on their progress, grades and attendance.

"Essentially, it's an effort by the juvenile office to contact families of students with poor attendance," he said. "If those are not successful, it might have to go to the next step of them becoming part of the truancy court. Ideally, it won't get that far. Usually, a call from a juvenile officer is enough motivation."

Cox said there is an educational neglect statute that allows juvenile officers and law enforcement to follow up on reports of truancy, like in situations where parents are not getting their kids to school, or they are trying, but the students are not going to school like they should be and their attendance and grades are suffering.

"That's where most of our authority comes from," he said.

As a result of improving attendance and any behavior issues, Cox believes the program will help students improve grades, interactions with other students and address any other issues that may be going on in their homes or lives.

Cox, who handles the juvenile docket for Barry County, said he will be handling the truancy cases.

"It's not a new concept," he said. "It's been used in other parts of the country and in the state of Missouri."

Cox said the idea came from a judge in Jasper County and how the office conducts its juvenile procedures.

"Our juvenile office was also part of proposing the idea," he said.

There is no cost incurred to the county, as the idea is still in its infancy and considered a pilot program, which will no doubt include trial and error, Cox said.

"The other programs we learned about applied for grants and did things to raise money to use in operating," Cox said. "We're not even there. That's way out in the future. Before we ever get to that, we have to get it off the ground first. We're looking at starting small and working our way up as we need to.

"We'll see how it goes and what it's going to take if we need more personnel and go from there."

Cox is also Associate Circuit Judge for Division One Barry County non-support cases.

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