PORTAGE | Portage Township Schools will continue with the teen court program for high and middle school students during the 2013/14 school year.
The school board recently approved continuing with the diversion program for students who otherwise might be facing expulsion from school. Many of the students are involved in drug, alcohol or truancy issues.
Tom Taylor, assistant superintendent, said 23 high school and 19 middle school students were referred to the program this past year. Seven high school and two middle school students were referred back to juvenile probation. Seven high school and one middle school student completed the program. The remaining 25 students have not completed the program for various reasons, he said, including not completing their requirements to serve on jury duty, not completing community service hours or not completing drug testing requirements.
The program sends students who meet certain requirements to appear in front of a jury of their peers at teen court. Fifty-six high school students volunteer for positions ranging from attorneys to clerks and a Valparaiso University law student volunteers as judge.
The jury is required to render a verdict in each case and provide sentencing, which can range from community service to counseling.
Sandra Porter-Phillips of Crisis Center, Inc., operates the court and works with students two days a week. She operates a similar court in Lake County.
Porter-Phillips said the students coming to teen court are not just kids getting into trouble. Many have underlying issues.
"There are things going on in these homes that is unbelievable," said Porter-Phillips, who works with students and their families through the intake and court process.
The program initially was offered to high school students and was expanded to the middle schools mid year. Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia said the program could be expanded even further this coming school year.