The Baltimore City program has proven successful in one of the state’s toughest school systems. Now, Montgomery County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast hopes it can help with truancy issues in Montgomery County, one of the nation’s best systems.
“We've got a problem, and we've been trying to keep control of that problem, and the best thing to do with a problem is front it, design something to fix it and get the entire community behind it," Weast said.
Almost 1,000 Montgomery County students have been classified as habitually truant. That’s less than 1 percent of the total student population, but it's a part of the population the superintendent does not want ignored.
"That’s the time to start addressing it -- at the 1 percent level," Weast said. "Why wait 'til you get to 10, 15, 20?"
The key to fighting truancy is not through punishment but by identifying why the child is missing school and fixing the problem, according to experts. Through Truancy Court, students and their families voluntarily participate in the program, which will consist of weekly in-school meetings and a mentoring relationship with a volunteer judge. The idea is that even the worst-behaved kids listen when they are in front of a judge.
In order to pass the program, students must increase school attendance by 75 percent, improve their grades and demonstrate better behavior.