Opinion – Eric Hoffman: Truancy cannot go unaddressed

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Star Press on 3/14/2020 by Eric Hoffman

Some say that well over 200 years ago, Sir William Curtis coined the phrase “the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic,” which are the basic skills that should be taught in schools. To this day, I can still hear my grandmother talking about the importance of reading, writing and arithmetic.

It has been said that “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” However, in order for a child to receive that passport, they must regularly attend school. Truancy can result in damaging and far-reaching consequences that can harm our youth in ways that they and we may not yet fully comprehend.

Many research studies indicate that habitual truancy is a significant multifaceted social problem with an equally diverse array of consequences including school failure, dropout, involvement in criminal activity and even development of chronic disease. Truancy often serves as a bridge to juvenile delinquency and future criminal behavior. Failing to address truancy will have negative repercussions throughout the child’s life and on society as a whole. I cannot underscore how important it is for children to attend school.

In Indiana, a statute called the Compulsory School Attendance Law requires children to attend school. If they fail to do so, the law provides two separate, yet similar, enforcement mechanisms based upon the fact scenario.

In the first scenario, the child fails to attend school despite the parent or guardian’s best efforts. If a child refuses to go to school or skips school and the parent or guardian has exhausted all efforts, there is help available. The parent or guardian must contact the school and the juvenile probation department for help.

In this instance, the child will receive a referral to juvenile probation. I will file a delinquency petition in juvenile court which will require the child and the parent or guardian to appear in juvenile court where the truancy issue will be addressed by the judge with the ultimate goal of getting the child to get back into school to receive the education that they desperately need. The bottom line is that the child can go to school voluntarily or I will seek the coercive intervention of the juvenile court to force them to go to school.

In the second scenario, the parent or guardian allows the child to be truant or looks the other way. Safeguarding the future of our youth requires the cooperation of parents and guardians to ensure consistent school attendance, which is vital to helping students to master the academic skills necessary to succeed in life. Parents and guardians have the absolute legal responsibility to ensure that their children attend school.

If a parent or guardian fails to ensure their child’s school attendance, the parent or guardian may be criminally prosecuted for the crime of Failing to Ensure School Attendance, a Class B misdemeanor. The penalty for a Class B misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. If there is evidence that a parent or guardian knowingly deprives the child of an education as required by law, the parent or guardian may be prosecuted for Neglect of a Dependent, a Level 6 felony which carries a penalty of up to two and a half years in jail and a fine of up to $10,000. I will not only file a delinquency petition against the truant child, but I will file criminal charges against the parent as well.

I have recently been informed that there is a small segment of high schoolers and some middle schoolers who are habitually truant. As a result, I have recently met with school administrators and concerned parents. The Delaware County Prosecutor’s Office and our local school systems are fully committed to the educational and long-term success of our youth. Therefore, in the coming days I will be taking action by filing documents with the juvenile court to initiate delinquency proceedings against multiple high school and middle school students.

These students have missed a substantial amount of days in school. Some students have missed as many as 67 days. If the evidence indicates that the parent or guardian was complicit with the truancy, I will file criminal charges against them as well. I want to personally thank the administration at Muncie Community Schools for bringing this issue to my attention as well as the parents and guardians for meeting with me and making me aware of your concerns. You have been heard.

As prosecuting attorney of Delaware County, I am committed to enforcing Indiana’s truancy laws. I look forward to working with the various school corporations and the Delaware County Juvenile Probation Department to ensure that the truancy laws are enforced. It is my hope that juvenile probation will diligently work with these children to address their truancy and correct their course of conduct.

I realize that many students do not read the paper. Therefore, to parents, teachers and school administrators: print a copy of this editorial and share it with your child/student. They need to know that I will not hesitate to file charges in these types of cases as the facts warrant.

Attendance in school not only benefits the individual child, but our community as a whole. Let’s strive for reading, writing, and arithmetic and not guns, drugs, and violence. The education of our youth is of great importance and far too much hangs in the balance.

Eric M. Hoffman is the prosecuting attorney for Delaware County.