By Amy Bounds
Since she started working with truant students as a Boulder Valley School District attendance advocate 12 years ago, Christina Suarez wanted to see the court mirror the district’s approach of help over punishment.
So she was all for the Truancy Improvement Project, launched in the fall of 2016 by the 20th Judicial District in partnership with local agencies. Instead of regular court appearances before a judge, a truancy review team connects the student and family to services.
“It’s something I always hoped would happen,” Suarez said.
Under the new model, chronic absenteeism is seen as a symptom of other challenges, including mental health issues, substance abuse and trauma.
“We need to address the root cause of what’s impacting a child’s ability to go to school,” Suarez said.
This school year, those involved said, the system is hitting its stride, with almost all chronically truant cases in Boulder Valley and St. Vrain Valley going through the new system.
Karin Blough, St. Vrain’s student services coordinator, said the district doesn’t have a single case in Boulder County truancy court this year, with all the cases instead going through the review team.
“It really falls in line with what we’ve been doing and the national trends,” she said. “The whole goal is to keep families out of court. We want to support the family to get access to services.”
In Boulder Valley, six cases are in truancy court and the rest are going through the review team process. Parents can choose between the two, and occasionally will ask for court in the hope that a student will take it more seriously, Suarez said.
Last school year, the review team worked with 39 families, with 26 referred to Mental Health Partners for counseling.