Thursday, October 14, 2021

District judge to oversee truancy hearings

Judge Breeda O'Leary
Students in Wayne can go to class or go to court.

In response to a rise in chronic absenteeism among local students, Judge Breeda O'Leary of the 29th District Court has agreed to oversee informal truancy hearings in her courtroom. 

The effort to keep students in school is a partnership with the court, Wayne Memorial High School and Wayne Youth Assistance.

The truancy hearings, designed to be troubleshooting sessions with at-risk students will include the student's parents, school officials and Wayne Youth Services personnel. The student's record of attendance and academic performance will be reviewed, along with any disciplinary history. Explanations for chronic absenteeism vary widely and include such issues as lack of transportation, homelessness, substance abuse, untreated mental health problems and lack of medical insurance. Community agencies will be utilized to provide support services to families as needed, O'Leary noted in a prepared statement.

The goal, she explained, is to agree on an intervention plan to improve attendance and academic achievement. During the informal hearing, a partnership is formed between the parents and school officials and often students are empowered by this process because they play an active role in identifying solutions with school personnel. The process is an effort to increase parental involvement in students' school attendance.

Cases are generally monitored from one report card marking period to another and a review date set to examine the student's progress. The collaboration with local schools, community service agencies and court officials creates an atmosphere where parents get support and students get to school, O'Leary said. It has proven successful in reducing truancy while avoiding any formal court involvement. If the intervention fails, formal truancy proceedings would be initiated through the Juvenile Court.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work with our local youth in improving their attendance and academic performance at Wayne Memorial High School. I am grateful to Dr. James Anderson and Wayne Youth Assistance for partnering with the court on this very important mission. This is just one of the many ways the court hopes to serve its community and help its residents,” O'Leary said.

O'Leary has been the judge at the 29th District Court since June of 2020. The first truancy court session is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 29.