Last updated: March 08. 2013 12:02AM - 4797 Views
By - jandes@civitasmedia.com - (570) 991-6388



Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis addresses the media at the office of District Justice Michael G. Dotzel in Wilkes-Barre Township regarding the vehicle that allegedly was involved in the December hit-and-run that was located in Plains Township on Friday night.  BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis addresses the media at the office of District Justice Michael G. Dotzel in Wilkes-Barre Township regarding the vehicle that allegedly was involved in the December hit-and-run that was located in Plains Township on Friday night. BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
Story Tools:

Font Size:

Social Media:

Two high-ranking Luzerne County officials are pushing for a countywide program zeroing in on truancy because excessive school absence is often a sign of deeper family problems.


Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis and Judge Tina Polachek Gartley said they have been discussing the need with other county departments and hope to formalize a proposed program involving multiple county agencies.


Salavantis points to Lackawanna County’s model truancy program, which assigns county Children and Youth agency caseworkers to work with students and families whenever a school reports a student has racked up a certain number of unexcused absences — usually five missed days.


The caseworkers try to address the problems preventing children from attending school so they don’t end up in court for truancy or, later in life, in the criminal justice system.


Without a countywide program, school districts are on their own with mixed approaches to truancy, Salavantis said. Truancy has been linked to juvenile crime, which is on the rise in the county, she said.


“These issues need to start being addressed,” said Salavantis. “I believe it’s an important program Luzerne County needs to look at.”


Polachek Gartley, who handles truancy court cases, said the county needs a uniform, comprehensive truancy program that “gets to the root of the problem.” Truancy is often a “symptom of something going on in the house,” particularly with elementary school students, she said.


Luzerne County’s 11 school districts had attendance rates ranging from 91 to 94 percent in the 2011-12 school year, according to state statistics. The attendance rate statewide was 94 percent that year.


How it works


Lackawanna County juvenile probation officer Barbara Burge, who is involved in the county’s truancy program, said Children and Youth caseworkers meet with students and their families to identify the reasons for absences and find solutions.


Some of the many examples of problems uncovered by caseworkers, according to Burge: student or parental drug addiction, poverty that left students with an insufficient supply of suitable school clothing, unaddressed medical issues due to no health insurance, bullying, rape, homelessness and inadequate parental supervision.


“We try to step in there and get services to the family, whether it’s counseling or getting them school clothing,” Burge said.


The county’s 10 school districts are permitted to forward cases to district judges if truancy continues after Children and Youth intervention, she said.


If absences continue in violation of a district judge order, cases advance to a family court master, where monitoring gets “much more invasive,” she said. A team of Children and Youth, juvenile probation and other county agency representatives also monitors each case.


Fines and jail time are reserved as last resorts because most of the families are low income. “Fines don’t help because most of the families can’t pay, and it just gives them another problem to deal with,” she said.


Some families initially are reluctant to reveal problems but usually open up “once they realize we’re not going away,” Burge said.


Lackawanna’s truancy program has been in effect more than a decade, but the involvement of Children and Youth caseworkers in schools was added about two years ago, she said.


Statewide move


More counties statewide are implementing truancy programs, with the goal of reducing the number of people who end up in the court system, Burge said.


The four Children and Youth caseworkers handle hundreds of truancy cases in schools annually, she said. She didn’t have statistics but said one school district reduced its annual district judge truancy filings from around 70 to 10 after Children and Youth intervention.


Several Luzerne County school officials say they welcome county assistance, particularly family access to counseling and other services.


“Fixing family dynamics is really the key,” said Dallas School District Superintendent Frank Galicki. “Trying to keep students engaged in positive activity while they’re at school is our job, but when they go home to a dysfunctional family situation, that’s when everything falls apart.”


Hazleton Area School District Superintendent Francis X. Antonelli said the district’s guidance counselors try to work with the families of chronically truant students and spend one-on-one time with the students to keep them engaged. The district would “embrace” additional assistance from the county, he said.


“There’s never enough you can do to keep kids in school,” Antonelli said.


Pittston Area Senior High School Principal John Haas said truancy impacts students’ performance and chances to become “productive citizens.” School officials and the district judge try to help parents address problems causing truancy, but county government has more access to family services, he said.the county, she said.


“These issues need to start being addressed,” said Salavantis. “I believe it’s an important program Luzerne County needs to look at.”


Polachek Gartley, who handles truancy court cases, said the county needs a uniform, comprehensive truancy program that “gets to the root of the problem.” Truancy is often a “symptom of something going on in the house,” particularly with elementary school students, she said.


Luzerne County’s 11 school districts had attendance rates ranging from 91 to 94 percent in the 2011-12 school year, according to state statistics. The attendance rate statewide was 94 percent that year.


How it works


Lackawanna County juvenile probation officer Barbara Burge, who is involved in the county’s truancy program, said Children and Youth caseworkers meet with students and their families to identify the reasons for absences and find solutions.


Some of the many examples of problems uncovered by caseworkers, according to Burge: student or parental drug addiction, poverty that left students with an insufficient supply of suitable school clothing, unaddressed medical issues due to no health insurance, bullying, rape, homelessness and inadequate parental supervision.


“We try to step in there and get services to the family, whether it’s counseling or getting them school clothing,” Burge said.


The county’s 10 school districts are permitted to forward cases to district judges if truancy continues after Children and Youth intervention, she said.


If absences continue in violation of a district judge order, cases advance to a family court master, where monitoring gets “much more invasive,” she said. A team of Children and Youth, juvenile probation and other county agency representatives also monitors each case.


Fines and jail time are reserved as last resorts because most of the families are low income. “Fines don’t help because most of the families can’t pay, and it just gives them another problem to deal with,” she said.


Some families initially are reluctant to reveal problems but usually open up “once they realize we’re not going away,” Burge said.


Lackawanna’s truancy program has been in effect more than a decade, but the involvement of Children and Youth caseworkers in schools was added about two years ago, she said.


Statewide move


More counties statewide are implementing truancy programs, with the goal of reducing the number of people who end up in the court system, Burge said.


The four Children and Youth caseworkers handle hundreds of truancy cases in schools annually, she said. She didn’t have statistics but said one school district reduced its annual district judge truancy filings from around 70 to 10 after Children and Youth intervention.


Several Luzerne County school officials say they welcome county assistance, particularly family access to counseling and other services.


“Fixing family dynamics is really the key,” said Dallas School District Superintendent Frank Galicki. “Trying to keep students engaged in positive activity while they’re at school is our job, but when they go home to a dysfunctional family situation, that’s when everything falls apart.”


Hazleton Area School District Superintendent Francis X. Antonelli said the district’s guidance counselors try to work with the families of chronically truant students and spend one-on-one time with the students to keep them engaged. The district would “embrace” additional assistance from the county, he said.


“There’s never enough you can do to keep kids in school,” Antonelli said.


Pittston Area Senior High School Principal John Haas said truancy impacts students’ performance and chances to become “productive citizens.” School officials and the district judge try to help parents address problems causing truancy, but county government has more access to family services, he said.


Comments
comments powered by Disqus



Featured Businesses


Poll



Info Minute



Gas Prices

Wilkes-Barre Gas Prices provided by GasBuddy.com