• Leader & Times
Since beginning only a few years ago, the Teen Court and Truancy programs through Adolescent Support Services have helped many in the community. Tuesday’s Liberal City Commission meeting gave the Adolescent Support Services staff the opportunity to provide an update to the commission and community about both programs.
“The Truancy program came into being at the request of then-Mayor Tim Long back in 2012,” Adolescent Support Services Director Ivanhoe Love Jr. began. “I agreed to investigate the possibility of establishing such a program for the community. We consulted with programs throughout Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas and based on our research from all that, we put together an evidence-based program called Truancy with the goal of improving the attendance and achievements of students struggling with truancy issues within the school district. The program consists of three phases requiring both the parent and the student to appear in court and give an account of the students’ progress, which lasts about six months.”
The program, along with the costs, Love continued, was presented to the governing bodies for their respective approvals and eventually approved by the Kansas Supreme Court.
“The impact of this program on the judicial system since 2012 has been simply outstanding,” Love said. “In 2012, there were more than 170 truancy cases filed with the county attorney’s office and at the end of the school year that next year, we had reduced that to 36 cases filed with the county attorney. This past year, there was a total of 14 cases filed with the county attorney. We’re proud of our achievements and we’ve reduced the number of students reported truant from 161 in January 2013 to 54 at the end of the year in 2017. We currently have 12 active truants in the program and our success is due in part to our prevention efforts and working hand in hand with the building officials. We are notified of these potential truants and we conduct home visits to advise the students and their parents of the situation. The truant officers conducted 466 home visits last year and we’ve completed 264 this year.”
Truancy Officer Sarah Rogers, who is in her third year with the program, then gave some numbers of her own before the commission.
“So far for this year, we’ve had 69 students reported truant,” Rogers said. “Out of those 69, seven of them were ineligible for the program, meaning they’d been through it already at some point. We had 11 who refused. Out of the students who came into the program, we’ve released three of them successfully, five of them unsuccessfully. We’ve had to file with the county attorney on three for failure to comply. Two students have signed out of school, one graduated early. We had two who withdrew from the program. We’ve had one student graduate from the program so far this year.”
Abigail Zepeda, a student currently in the program and a senior at Liberal High School, then talked to the commission regarding her experiences with the program.
“The Truancy program has taught me to be responsible so I can make it on time to school,” Zepeda began. “I used to not care about early or late or even showing up to school. This program has also helped me keep track of my grades and it’s helped me care more about school in general especially since it’s my senior year.”
Love and his staff then gave a quick update on the Teen Court program.
“Teen Court provides an educational opportunity that allows both the offender and the Teen Court volunteers to experience a better understanding of the American justice system,” Love said. “Our Teen Court works to stop illegal behavior by motivating them to improve themselves and was introduced to the community in 2015. After acquiring the support of all the local governing agencies, we conducted our first court session in June 2015. Since that time, we’ve completed 73 cases in Teen Court.”
Teen Court Coordinator Mike Aguilar, who has been with Adolescent Support Services since May 2017, then spoke before the commission about the program.
“Teen Court is a voluntary alternative to the juvenile judicial system,” Aguilar began. “If a student chooses to accept, they will have a court hearing where they will be sanctioned by a jury of their peers. From 2017 and the 2018 calendar year, we’ve had 31 juvenile offenders we’ve signed up and have only filed on three students for non-compliance, which shows a high success rate for this program. We work hand in hand with Liberal High School, where students are taught the necessities of how to serve as officers of the court.”
LHS senior Cheyenne Miller then shared her experiences as being part of the Teen Court program.
“I’ve been in the Teen Court class since last semester and I’ve served as a jury foreman, a prosecuting attorney, defense attorney and judge,” Miller said. “It’s just a great opportunity for people who are interested in the justice system to prepare a case, to be in a courtroom and get a sense of what that’s like. It’s also really great for the people in trouble to have that second chance before getting too far in the system.”
Love then offered encouragement for the commissioners to volunteer with the Teen Court program.
“They’re absolutely amazing,” Love said. “It’s just a really great program.”