Lake judge wants similar student truancy programs

2014-06-18T20:00:00Z 2014-06-18T20:32:07Z Lake judge wants similar student truancy programsBill Dolan bill.dolan@nwi.com, (219) 662-5328 nwitimes.com
June 18, 2014 8:00 pm  • 

CROWN POINT | Lake Juvenile Judge Thomas Stefaniak Jr. said many schools in the county have begun coordinating efforts to reduce school truancy.

Stefaniak told the Lake County Board of Commissioners Wednesday his court has received a $93,000 grant to bring school and law enforcement officials together to establish a common method of keeping students in school.

"We need a countywide response to this problem, because truancy is the gateway to delinquency," Stefaniak said.

He said dozens if not hundreds of children in Lake County avoid school.

Joann Price, Stefaniak's detention alternative coordinator, said the court hopes to model a countywide program after the one the Gary schools and city court now use.

Gary police have said any child found outside of a school campus during school hours will be detained and returned to school. After 10 unexcused absences, they are referred to the Gary Truancy Court program.

Parents are initially charged with a city ordinance violation of parental neglect, which is no more serious than a traffic ticket and are offered an opportunity to attend parenting classes.

Students are required to attend all school and complete any homework assignments assigned by their teachers, as well as the judge, and make a weekly status report to the court, including showing their school attendance report.

The Times recently highlighted the student and parent graduates of the third annual Project Rebuild graduation. Created by Gary City Court Pro Tem Judge Inga Lewis-Shannon, the program is a collaboration between Gary City Court and the Gary Police Department to address the growing problem of truancy among Gary students.

Gary Roosevelt junior Elijah Nolan, who just turned 16, and his mother, Tammy Weatherspoon, said their relationship also improved as a result of their participating in the program together.

Gary police Cmdr. Kerry Rice said the program received more than 400 referrals and served about 300 citations last school year. He said this was the first year it received referrals at the elementary level.

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