Middletown Public Schools are looking into new ways to handle students with chronic truancy problems.
The first step has been taken with the School Committee’s dismantling of the old system, which had utilized the state’s controversial Truancy Court for the previous 12 years. Under that system, parents of Grade 7-12 students were required to attend the court proceedings with the students and parents also were held accountable to court requirements.
The Middletown School Committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to no longer use the state’s Truancy Court system at the recommendations of school department counsel and Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger, citing a pending lawsuit against the court and other communities outside Middletown where students’ and families had complained the system denied them certain civil rights.
Some had complained they were denied access to attorneys or were abruptly removed from their families’ homes and placed at the state Training School without due process that occurs in other courts. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed lawsuits against the magistrates from the courts as well as six school districts that include Woonsocket, Providence, North Providence, Coventry, Cumberland and Westerly. Some initial complaints had also involved students from Newport and Portsmouth. Read more about the pending case from a previous report on Projo.com here.
Although Middletown has not been named in the lawsuits, school officials this week saw enough reasons to withdraw, based on complaints in other communities, and to look for new ways to deal with chronic absenteeism.
Each year, Middletown Public Schools typically see about 10-12 students who have chronic truancy problems or chronic absenteeism, according to Kraeger.
“In this day and age it makes common sense, but it’s a shame,” School Committee member William O'Connell said prior to the vote Wednesday night.
The Middletown Public Schools District already employs one full-time attendance officer, who also performs residency checks on grade K-12 students to confirm their eligibility to attend public schools within Middletown.
In place of Truancy Court for students in Grades 7-12, Middletown will also consider implementing or expanding other school-based interventions, or taking additional steps to help families connect with social service agencies, Kraeger said.
“For example, we can increase our home visits to families of students with chronic absenteeism, and have more one-on-one meetings with the families,” Kraeger said.
The reasons for chronic absenteeism vary by student, so there’s often no one-size-fits-all solution for all students, she noted.
Outside of behavioral issues, health conditions, family problems at home, economic problems or transportation issues often can contribute to students’ absenteeism, she noted.
At the next School Committee meeting scheduled for Aug. 25, school officials also are expected to discuss whether to reinstitute in-house suspensions instead of the current system, which enables students to serve their suspension terms at home.