News from the Metro-King County Council
by Louise Miller, Vice Chair, District 3 Representative
Inspired by a runaway child who died while on the streets of Washington State, the Becca Bill, addressing at-risk youth, runaways, truancy, and other issues affecting non-offender youth and their families, was enacted by the state Legislature in 1995.
In 1996, the truancy law was amended to require school districts to perform certain actions: Inform parents after one unexcused absence within any month; schedule a conference with parents and child after two unexcused absences within any month; and take steps to eliminate or reduce absences. Local school districts were given the authority to create community truancy boards.
The truancy law requires school districts to file a truancy petition with Superior Court upon the seventh unexcused absence in a month; however, schools or parents may file prior to the seventh absence. No filing fees are required.
The court may enter an order to intervene for the remainder of the school year, order the child to school, fine a parent, or order the parent to perform community service at the school. If a child fails to comply, the court may order up to seven days in detention, community service, participation in dropout prevention programs, or order the child to report to a truancy board.
The state Legislature allocated $3 million statewide to schools to implement steps or programs, which effectively reduce absences, without the need to file a court petition.
The Metropolitan King County Council has funded a half-time truancy court in response to the 1996 legislation. During the 1995-1996 school year, districts filed 3,799 truancy court petitions. Petitions filed from District Three schools were: 88 from Lake Washington, 14 from Northshore, and 23 from Riverview. The Seattle School District filed 70 percent of all truancy petitions.
Implementing the truancy law has been a overwhelming task, but it has a solid beginning. Significant progress has been made in developing intervention strategies and developing protocols for processing truancy petitions. Many children have already received intervention and truancy court services, and schools report a positive impact on attendance for most children.
The legislature has allocated $2.3 million statewide to process petitions for truancy and provide services to children and at-risk youth. King County Superior Court will receive $479, $256.56 of that funding in the 1996-97 school year.
Critical to the success of the truancy proviso response is the King County Truancy Steering Committee, which is a cooperative venture of the King County Executive, King County Council, King County Courts, law enforcement, school districts, and Department of Youth Services.