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Bill seeks to end jailing for truancy

A new bill takes aim at the practice of jailing students who defy court orders in truancy cases.

A key change proposed by Senate Bill 15-184 would take truancy cases out of the juvenile courts and place them with state administrative law judges.

Under the bill, school districts that wanted to compel a student to attend school would file a petition with an administrative judge, who could issue an order compelling attendance, require dependency or neglect evaluations,and specify sanctions. But an administrative judge couldn’t order detention for students or jailing of parents.

Parents and students could appeal administrative decisions to juvenile court, and cases would have to be transferred to juvenile court if a student were involved in dependency or neglect proceedings.

Finally, according to the bill summary, the measure “prohibits a juvenile detention facility from receiving a juvenile who violates a court order to attend school unless the juvenile is also adjudicated for committing a delinquent act.”

The bill is as bipartisan as can be, given that it’s sponsored by conservative Republican Sen. Chris Holbert of Parker and liberal Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora.

Fields has long been concerned about truancy, and was the prime sponsor of a 2013 law that limits jailing of truant students to no more than five days at a stretch and encourages school districts to improve their services for “chronically absent” students so that they don’t end up in court.

During a committee hearing on that bill, Fields and witnesses said about 500 students a year were detained for truancy violations, and that in at least one case a youth was held for more than 100 days.

Read the text of SB 15-184 here.

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