With a new bill passed by the Legislature whereby all school districts in Washington state must establish community truancy boards, officials anticipate a reduction in the number of students who skip school but more importantly, stay out of the court system.

Skipping school too often in Washington state is a crime. However, parents taking away privileges, kids going to juvenile detention, and threats of detention being made by school officials has had very little, if any impact. For this reason, the government has stepped in with a new approach that involves parents, community experts, court officials, and educators working together while not resorting to formal legal action.

SchoolDistrictsSeveral years ago, a Spokane County school district developed a community truancy board. Since implementation, up to 82 percent of students who struggled with truancy have now earned a GED or diploma. Of those, 18 percent had points higher when compared to other nearby districts. Having achieved great success, the concept drew interest on a national level.

Currently, about 70 percent of school districts in Washington state have no truancy board or similar program. Thanks to success of the Spokane County school district’s truancy board, things for all Washington state schools are changing. This past week, state lawmakers passed a bill whereby all school districts and juvenile courts must work as a team in creating a community truancy board. As outlined in the new bill, these boards must be in place for the 2017/2018 school year.

In a collaborative effort, longtime advocate for truancy programs, Senator Jim Hargrove along with Representative Tina Orwall sent House Bill 2449 to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee. As stated by Bobbe Bridge, former state Supreme Court Justice, the bill encompasses more than 20 years of efforts in finding a more effective way of dealing with truancy.

The decision for this new bill comes after a state law was passed in 1995, mandating school districts to send students along with families to court if more than seven unexcused absences were recorded within a one-month period or 10 such absences in a single school year.

Bridge, who is also the founding President and CEO of the Center for Children & Youth Justice, confirms that community truancy boards work extremely well. In fact, for some situations, these boards allow significant change but without an exaggerated expense.

Initially, the bill made community truancy boards for Washington state school districts optional but now, any school with more than 200 students is required to have the board in place by the fall of 2017.