School districts in Washington state are filing fewer petitions to juvenile court for kids who are truant, according to a recent report from the state superintendent’s office.
But almost all of the kids who wind up in the juvenile court system for unexcused absences – 93 percent – come from low-income families.
A student is considered truant when he or she has five or more unexcused absences in a month or 10 or more in a school year. Because of a state law called the Becca bill, school districts have tended to file a truancy petition to juvenile court when that happened.
In recent years, though, there’s been a statewide push to encourage schools to intervene earlier and limit the use of juvenile court for kids who habitually miss school. Truancy petitions to juvenile court dropped 25 percent in the most recent school year.
“Schools are addressing those issues in much more proactive ways of trying to help families understand the importance of coming to school, particularly in those early elementary school years where we see that students who don’t attend regularly by third grade aren’t reading at grade level and those kinds of fallouts we see after that,” said Laurie Shannon, graduation and re-engagement program supervisor for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Shannon said it’s hard to know the exact reasons why kids from low-income families make up the vast majority of students who get sent to juvenile court for truancy, but the numbers raise questions in her mind.
She said one question, for example, is whether it’s more difficult for parents living in poverty to navigate the school system and know how to report their children’s absences so that they’re recorded as excused instead of unexcused.
There are also differences in the truancy statistics by race. For example, Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders are overrepresented in the group of kids with a lot of unexcused absences and truancy petitions. That’s also the case for American Indian and Alaska Native students.