PUTNAM COUNTY, Tenn. (WKRN) — A Putnam County judge is addressing truancy through a new requirement for unexcused absences.
“Every unexcused absence that a kid has in school, they are going to do seven hours of community service at our local recycling center,” said General Sessions Court Judge R. Steven Randolph with the Juvenile Court.
Tennessee law allows school districts to define excused and unexcused absences. School districts are required to allow an excused absence for a student whose parent is an election official, court related matters, and for a parent’s service in the U.S. armed forces.
On Putnam County Schools’ Facebook page, Randolph explained his reasoning. His research showed that truancy leads to teen drug use, teen pregnancy, delinquency, and low self-esteem. He added those issues also continue into adulthood, which leads to lower wages, lack of employment opportunities, dependence on welfare, and even higher rates of incarceration.
There’s a debate among some parents who are against Randolph’s decision. They believe some kids could face unforeseen circumstances or have health conditions that force them to have unexcused absences.
“If they were truant and they were ditching school, then by all means go ahead — do what you have to do to teach them a lesson,” Putnam County parent Meagen Hassinger said. “But my twins have medical appointments and miss quite a bit of school.
Some parents also expressed support for Randolph’s decision when asked by News 2.
The day after this story was published, Randolph released the following statement to provide some clarity about truancy in the Putnam County Juvenile Court:
Truancy is chronic absences, not an occasional missed school day. Truancy requires that a petition be filed by the school attendance supervisor to bring the matter before the Court.
Putnam County follows TCA 49-6-3009 and the tier system to address truancy. A petition to cite a student to court for truancy is in tier 3 and it happens when the efforts in tier 1 and tier 2 have been unsuccessful. Putnam County, Tennessee follows TCA 37-1-131, TCA 37-1-132, and other relevant statutes regarding juveniles.
Once a student has finally been cited to court for truancy, a treatment plan is developed for that individual child. The Court makes a determination about community service for a student and considers the treatment plan and the relevant statutes throughout the time the case is pending before the Court. The individual student’s best interests are continuously reviewed throughout the time their case is pending before the Court.
I regret that the video has caused so much confusion, but I am glad that it has increased awareness about truancy and the best interests of the students of Putnam County.