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Eighth District Judge: “Truancy is a Gateway Crime”

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(Photo- Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

(Photo- Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

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(Las Vegas CBS KXNT)  A handful of Clark County attorneys are ready to act as once-a-week judges, trying to determine why the young people ordered to appear in their makeshift chambers are chronically absent from school.

The lawyers are volunteers for the Truancy Diversion Program overseen by Eighth Judicial District Family Court Judge Jennifer Elliott. The 10-year-old program assigns each of the volunteers to one of 38 schools, where they hold weekly counseling sessions with frequently-absent students in an effort to solve whatever problem might be hampering daily attendance.

“We see truancy as a gateway crime, because the highest truancy zip codes are the same high-risk truancy zip codes,” Elliott told KXNT on Monday.

“When they’re out on the street during the day, what are they doing?  They’re meeting up with people doing drugs, having sex, committing crimes.”

The truancy judges have uncovered a range of reasons kids stay away from school.  Some have parents who are not at home in the mornings.  Others have cited fear of bullying, or fear of an academic subject like math or science, even telling the judges they don’t believe they can catch up after missing a lot of classes.

The judges are intent on solving the problems.

“Some of them don’t have alarm clocks,” said local divorce attorney Jason Stoffel who’s starting his fourth year in the program.  “So we will provide alarm clocks for the students.”

Truant students assigned to the 14-week diversion program sometimes develop a bond with the judge. Stoffel says kids have told him they never skip on the days when they are seeing him.

Some kids go back to their old ways after completing the program, but some improve, Stoffel said.

“Some of the teachers write comments,”  he said.  “This student is more alert.  This student is now a class clown.”

Judge Elliott hosted a luncheon on Monday for the truancy diversion judges, to kick off the year.

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