SA: Spotlight on Truancy Court at Waianae Intermediate

Nanea Kalani, “Family Court experiment helps Waianae school fight absenteeism,” Star-Advertiser, 11/27/16.

A pilot program under Oahu’s Family Court is quietly helping address a persistent attendance problem at one Leeward middle school by removing barriers for truant students while emphasizing the importance of a high school education.

Family Court Senior Judge R. Mark Browning last school year launched a specialized court to handle truancy cases out of Waianae Intermediate School, where average daily absences are more than double the state average.

The school, with 913 students in grades 7 and 8, had the highest chronic absenteeism rate last school year among middle schools at 38 percent, reflecting the percentage of students absent 15 days or more. The state average for middle schools was 14 percent that year.

Waianae Intermediate students on average missed 21 school days — amounting to more than four weeks of school — compared with the statewide average of nine absences.

Although statistics for this year aren’t finalized, the school believes the program is making a difference. For example, Waianae Intermediate Principal John Wataoka says he’s never had to sign so many perfect-attendance certificates and teachers have said their classes seem larger despite the same enrollment.

“We’re still far from where we want to be, so I can’t imagine not having this partnership,” Wataoka said of the truancy court program. “We’re looking to really transform not just the school but the community and their mindset as far as what school and education can ultimately do for their children’s futures.”

Browning consulted with his colleagues and area school leaders and floated the idea of establishing a specialized court to handle truancy cases.  Continue reading