By Darrell Todd Maurina
Clovis school administrators from the elementary to high school level met Friday with the district attorney to plan ways to help schools cut truancy and keep kids out of the justice system.
Friday’s meeting was part of a two-day series of administrative meetings to prepare for the upcoming school year. Clovis superintendent Neil Nuttall said students missing classes has been an increasing problem in Clovis, and 9th Judicial District Attorney Brett Carter said an increasing number of crimes in Clovis are being committed by children who should be in school.
“We presented what we’re calling a Curry County Truancy Initiative in partnership with (9th Judicial District Attorney) Brett Carter,” said Clovis superintendent Neil Nuttall. “It is for all the schools in Curry County, but particularly Clovis.”
The plan includes a series of four steps, beginning with a certified letter sent to parents after their child’s fifth unexcused absence from school.
“For the first time since I’ve been here, we have a well-defined process to follow,” Nuttall said. “This will give us a protocol for what we do as well as letters we’ve pre-written to streamline the process and what they will do at the juvenile probation office.”
While the program will be available to all school districts in Carter’s jurisdiction, including Melrose, Texico, Grady, Elida, Floyd and Dora, Carter said his office is working first with Clovis and then Portales. Once the program has been tested for possible problems in the two larger school districts, Carter said he will work with any of the smaller districts that would like to participate.
Carter said parents need to understand the program isn’t directed at students who are late to school or who have valid excused absences, and won’t target people who are making a good-faith effort to get their children to school.
“We give them several opportunities to get their child back in school before we take any action,” Carter said. “If they haven’t taken any action after our four step process they aren’t making an effort.”
For parents who refuse to cooperate, Carter said the last resort will be to file truancy charges under the state’s compulsory school attendance law. Non-cooperative students may be referred to teen court or other programs to provide social services — a better option than prosecuting them for more serious crimes.
“One thing that was brought up that surprised me was some of the principals are actually having problems with kindergartners not attending school,” Carter said. “We are usually out there prosecuting criminals. We are hoping we can try some proactive programs to keep people out of the juvenile justice system.”
Nuttall said the Clovis administrators will meet again on Monday to discuss assessment, accountability, and accreditation issues.