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Magistrate to address truancy at West Jefferson schools

| Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

District Judge Guy Reschenthaler wants to bring an end to truancy in West Jefferson Hills schools.

By definition, three days of unexcused absences makes a student truant. At that point, school officials can file charges against the student and his or her parents with a district judge. A hearing is held regardless of whether parents or teens respond.

Currently, parents can be fined up to $300, he explained, and given a maximum sentence of five days in jail for nonpayment. The student also can be fined and have his or her driver's license suspended.

Reschenthaler's program would add a preventative layer to the process through a two-hour class for parents.

“Schools are waiting to file a complaint of dozens of days,” Reschenthaler said.

The delay, he said, doesn't help because the truancy problem is not addressed quickly.

Some parents ignore the hearing notice, while others pay the fine because they can afford it. In both cases, little is done to correct the truancy problem, Reschenthaler said.

According to court statistics, the district had 41 instances of truancy last year. Twenty-two were first-time offenders, 12 were repeat offenders and seven came from families where truancy had been an issue with other siblings. The high school has 892 students and the middle school has 685.

“Judge (Pat) Capolupo had this in the works,” said Reschenthaler, referring to his predecessor. “He thought that students who were habitually truant needed school the most.”

The district judge has been working with a few local superintendents and said that when a program is designed it can be offered at each of the districts in a monthly rotation. Reschenthaler also would like to include the Elizabeth Forward School District with West Jefferson and South Park schools.

Superintendent Michael Panza said he has seen the approach work elsewhere.

“Rather than simply fining the students and the parents, it is my opinion that he believes educating parents/students about truancy is the better approach,” Panza said. “As an educator, I fully support this idea.”

Reschenthaler presented his plan at last month's school board meeting, and the board might revisit the topic at its agenda meeting on Sept. 16.

Dona S. Dreeland is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5803 or ddreeland@tribweb.com.

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