Bethel Truancy Boards keep students on track and out of court

Attendance awards are one way schools encourage students to be in class everyday.

It’s an obvious but fundamental truth that children cannot learn and grow if they aren’t in the classroom.

To that end, Bethel has partnered with Pierce County Juvenile Court to form elementary and secondary truancy boards aimed at helping chronically absent students stay in school and out of the court system.

Bethel was one of the first school districts in the state to implement an elementary level truancy board, but many others have followed suit. In 2016, the Washington legislature passed legislation that requires juvenile courts and school districts with more than 300 students to establish community truancy boards, according to KNKX Radio.

The boards are made up of members of the educational community. Often these team members include counselors, social workers, nurses, special services reps, the Equity Director, and a building level administrator. They work together to create roadmaps to help students with chronic absenteeism get back into the classroom.

“After we’ve identified the root of the issue, we’ll start brainstorming interventions or solutions. We’ll find ways where we can partner with and support a parent,” said Kelley Boynton, Bethel’s Executive Director of Elementary Schools and a member of the truancy board.

The board acts as a final barrier between the school and the courtroom. Students with too many unexcused absences may have to go before a juvenile court judge, and if the student doesn’t follow through with the judge’s orders they can face dire consequences, such as being put into juvenile detention with kids who have committed sometimes serious crimes, according to KNKX.

It’s the goal of the truancy board to keep that from happening.

“We tell the parents, it’s not our goal to ever go to court,” Boynton said. “Our goal is to collaborate with you to build a program and supports that help with regular attendance. That’s why we’re here.”

So far, it appears the plan is working.

A third grade teacher at one of Bethel’s elementary schools said one of her students has done an academic 180° since going before the truancy board last year. The student has improved in all aspects of school this year and has even won an attendance award.

“I would definitely say her attendance has affected her academics,” the teacher said. “Since day one, she has come in ready to learn, asks questions, and helps her peers. She puts all her effort into her learning and it shows.”

One way the board works to help students — rather than scare them — is to offer incentives for good attendance. Teachers hold celebrations for students who improve their attendance, which adds some fun to their day and takes away some of the fear of getting behind in class.

The elementary truancy board is especially important because chronic absenteeism in elementary school can put students into an academic hole that they’re never quite able to to dig out of.

“When kids start missing the instructional sequence, the gap starts growing. And what that does is creates a distaste for school as the gap widens,” Boynton said.

Learn more about the problems the come with chronic absenteeism here.