Opinion

Overview

Inside

The Thrasher Group

McKinley Architects & Engineers

March 13, 2015 - Volume 35 Issue 17

Commentary

“Search for the truth is the noblest occupation of man; its publication is a duty.” - Anne Louise Germaine de Stael (1766-1817), a French-speaking Swiss author living in Paris and abroad who influenced literary tastes in Europe at the turn of the 19th century.

 


 

 

 

 By Stephen N. Smithl

I was a truant kid.  

In sixth grade, I missed more than 10 days of school – in just my first semester. I missed 15 more days the next semester. In sixth and seventh grade combined, I missed over 50 days of school. Some of those absences were technically “excused"; others were not.  

Like many kids, I hated school. My parents did the best they could to cope. I faced the consequences of my actions – struggling to make up school work, the embarrassment of missing so much class, feeling like I didn't belong. I am not proud of missing so much school, but I am proud of how my parents and my school supported me through it.  

Today, the consequences are much different.  

If I had grown up in modern-day West Virginia, I (or my folks) might have gone to prison.  

I am embarrassed to live in a state that is becoming famous for locking kids up. Kids like me. West Virginia is a faster-growing youth incarceration rate than any in the country.  

Right now, thanks to the work of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, Mercer County Teen Court, and legislators from both sides of the aisle – there is a bill that just passed both houses that would fix West Virginia's broken truancy system.  

Currently, students who miss five days unexcused are referred to the judicial system, but House Bill 2550 increases that threshold to 10 days — with provisions in place to notify and confer with parents before the student misses 10 days. The bill is the best of both worlds – it makes sure truant kids get help before 5 days – but it makes sure that that help doesn’t come in the form of a court appearance.  

Jennifer Meinig of the ACLU of West Virginia said when students are referred to the judicial system, it’s hard for them to get out. “Right now, West Virginia is experiencing a crisis in the number of children referred to juvenile court as a result of missing school,” she said. “Sending kids to court for truancy hurts their chances of finishing school and becoming productive adults. This legislation will provide much-needed time for parents and school administrators to intervene and develop workable solutions. We all want to keep kids in school and out of court, and this bill will undoubtedly help us achieve this goal.” - See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150311/DM0104/150319732/1276#sthash.c59jKSVF.dpuf.  

Stephen N. Smith is executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.  

Editor’s Note: Stephen N. Smith is executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition.  A modified version of House Bill  2550, legislation to which Smith referred, has been adopted by both Houses. The measure is being readied for referral to the governor.