Wood County Schools struggling with truancy

PARKERSBURG – Last week the Associated Press reported Mercer County truancy rates plunged more than 80 percent since the school and judicial systems formed a partnership last year.

Truancy continues to be an issue in the Wood County School system. The total number of truancy warnings sent to parents nearly tripled to 1,140 in 2011-12, up from 420 the previous school year.

Chris Rutherford, attendance director for Wood County Schools, said the county is seeing its repeat truancy offenders drop, but the overall truancy numbers are growing.

“We are seeing a decline in repeats,” he said. “Is truancy on the decline? Not really.”

Rutherford said counselors at Parkersburg South High School reported 60 percent of all students who went through a truancy conference with school officials had their attendance rate improve.

Mercer County’s program is part of a West Virginia Supreme Court initiative that partners with the circuit court system, local school boards and social agencies to keep students in school. Under the program, the county board of education files truancy petitions in court for students. In some cases, abuse and neglect petitions are filed against parents or guardians.

Students found to be chronically truant must either follow court-ordered improvement plans or be placed on probation.

Rutherford said last year school officials sent out 1,040 notifications.

“Out of those, 132 went to court,” he said. “What’s happening is the staff works down the cases so we don’t have to go to court.”

“We don’t want to go to court unless absolutely necessary.”

Wood County Schools also utilizes the court system to combat truancy issues, but it’s a last resort. Rutherford said he can’t recall any parents or guardians receiving jail time as result of the court invention.

Rutherford took at least five repeat truancy offender cases to magistrate court last week to have warrants served. He noted the courts do more than just serve notice to repeat offenders. They also provide (court-ordered) services that are sometimes needed in domestic situations.

He said the school system also uses truancy conferences as a way to better understand the circumstances surrounding truancy and work with families to solve problems.

“Often there are extenuating circumstances, such as a family crisis, that might not be evident in the initial meetings,” he said.

Last year Wood County schools identified more than 700 kids as McKinney-Vento (homeless) and eligible for supplemental aid under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act.

“Services sometimes need to be put in the home and court-ordered services are a great way to get them in the home and have them monitored.”