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New countywide truancy plan approved

El Paso County Commissioners Monday approved a new policy directing what happens when students skip school. And it covers practically every student in the county.

“The county-wide plan follows the law, so that the school districts, all school districts in the charter or public schools, know what they are required to do in order to make sure a student makes it to school,” said District Attorney Jaime Esparza.

For the past few months, Esparza has been leading a task force to come up with the guidelines to comply with the new state law.
The state now makes truancy violations a civil penalty, like a parking ticket, instead of a immediately a criminal penalty. The plan adopted by all local and charter school districts starts with sending a letter to a student after there are three unexcused absences, explaining the seriousness of the situation. And after 10 unexcused absences, the school will start 45-day process of working with students and families directly to get the kids to school

If the student is not back on track after that, the case goes to the district attorney instead of directly going before a justice of the peace. The DA’s office then decides the next best course of action – whether it’s other programs or legal consequences.

“It’s a change in philosophy, and it’s a change in approach,” said County Judge Veronica Escobar. “Instead of immediately criminalizing truancy, there will be an added step before it is criminalizing the truancy. That’s good for the parents, it’s good for the students, because they get far more involvement from the districts.”

And the ultimate goal – more students in class, fewer parents in jail.

The county will do a review of the numbers and results from the program in February to see exactly how well it’s working or not, and make adjustments as necessary.

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