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20th Judicial District launches Truancy Improvement Project

Friday, September 23, 2016

BOULDER – As summer vacation has come to a close, students and teachers across Colorado have been gearing up for another school year.  Many students have begun the yearlong routine of waking up in the morning, packing backpacks and heading out the door to catch the bus or walk with friends to school.  Others may have begun a game of cat and mouse with a truancy officer and may find themselves in the Boulder County Courthouse to explain why they haven’t been making it to school after leaving the house in the morning.

In a collaborative effort to keep students in school and off the streets, the 20th Judicial District has adopted the Truancy Improvement Project (TIP) to reduce the use of detention as a sanction in truancy cases. The project was launched in response to the requirements outlined in Senate Bill 15-184.  

“Clearly the most relevant factor to a student’s success in school is keeping them in school and on track with their studies and extracurricular activities,” said 20th Judicial District Chief Judge Maria Berkenkotter. “The adoption of the Truancy Improvement Project shifts the traditional way of handling truancy cases to more of a problem-solving court model. Our goal is to have truant students spend less time in court and detention and more time addressing and working on the factors that are keeping them from getting to and staying in school.”

Boulder County has an amazing range of schools for families, and all kids must attend school until they are 17 years of age under the Colorado School Attendance Law of 1963.  It is both the students’ and the parents’ responsibility to follow this state law. Under state law, if a student misses four class periods in a month or 10 since school began, the student is what the law calls a "habitual truant." Those are class periods, not days. The goal of the truancy court is to assist students who are habitually truant and their families.  The court and the professionals will work with families on school choice options, extra help, services and problem-solving.

No matter what a student’s life goals are, education is critical. High school graduation is required for college, community college, most trade schools, and most law enforcement and military careers. The average college graduate can expect to earn about $20,000 more than a high school graduate. For those students who want to work right after high school, high school graduates earn over $5,000 per year more on average than those who don’t complete high school. To put it another way, if a student graduates from a four-year college, their average income is likely to be about $49,900.  A trade school or two-year college graduate after high school earns about $35,000.  A high school graduate earns about $30,000 and those with less than a high school diploma or the equivalent earn about $25,000 (U.S. Department of Education, 2016). Over a lifetime of work, education can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income. The TIP is designed to help students graduate high school, a critical beginning to their success as adults.

  The TIP is intended to reduce the use of detention as a sanction, better identify and match support services to truant youth and their families, and create better opportunities to share information about truant youth. To help accomplish this goal, the TIP has adopted a multi-disciplinary community review team, called the Truancy Review Team, to better understand the needs of truant youth and their families, and to enhance services available in the community to meet those needs.

Information concerning the scope and purpose of the TIP, including information regarding applications for new truancy cases and the review of existing truancy cases eligible for enrollment in the TIP, can be found in 20th Judicial District Administrative Order 16-101.   

Stakeholders involved in the development and formation of the TIP and who will provide support to the project include the Boulder Valley School District, St. Vrain Valley School District, Voices for Children/CASA, IMPACT, Boulder County Department of Housing and Human Services, Guardians Ad Litem/attorneys, Mental Health Partners, Boulder County Attorney’s Office, Criminal Justice Services, BEST, 20th Judicial District Probation Department, Workforce Boulder County and law enforcement. 

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