The Lake County Prosecutor’s office has a truancy program in place but it is under utilized. Ronna Lukasik-Rosenbaum comprises the county’s truancy division and she mainly works truancy cases where she lives–in Lowell. It’s not that Lukasik-Rosenbaum won’t go to other cities, it’s that she is never asked.
“That wall has always been there too. You’d think they’d take all the help that they can get. We don’t have any authority over them. We cant even tell the police chiefs what to do,” Lake County Prosecutor, Bernard Carter said.
“We send a letter out to every school administration at the beginning of the school year and we advise them that were here to help them and some of the bigger cities and towns don’t respond. They never ask for help. I personally go into the schools and meet with parents, counselors and administrators. In these cases, students have missed 30 or 40 days of school,” Peter Villarreal, First Assistant Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, said.
Lukasik-Rosenbaum said much of her truancy work happens in elementary grades and she sees a good result but by high school, intervention seems to be ineffective. Any Lake County school administrator can call her for truancy services.
“We are committed to working with teachers and administrators last week we talked about sending another letter for second semester. Maybe they get taken care of administratively so that’s why we don’t get many calls,” Villarreal said.
“I hope Karen (Freeman-Wilson) will have a better communalization with them. The past school system and the mayor’s office haven’t gotten along well. They won’t even allow state wide, the mayor to have a voice on the board as a non-voting member, so the resistance is there,” Carter said.
The county prosecutors who commented on the issue of truancy said there are some educational neglect cases filed but it depends on the school system. The criminal justice system in Lake County is bogged down enough without adding truancy cases, they said. Villarreal, Carter, Lukasik-Rosenbaum and Barbara McConnell, Chief Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, were interviewed.
“There are a lot of procedures school administrators would have to go through. We’re like a last resort. As important as kids are, there are a lot of other violent criminal and abuse and drug type of activity going on. That is why you don’t see thousands of these case being filed,” Villarreal said.
“We’re out there every single week doing something. We deal with cities and town courts–there are a half a million people in the county. Were trying to help young people so they won’t get in trouble,” Villarreal said.
Only 10 percent of the truancy cases formally handled by courts from 1985 to 2000 were referred by police departments as habitual truants, information from the National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention, said.
Of the adjudicated youth, most are placed on probation where a probation officer checks up on truant students. The No Child Left Behind Act requires states to report truancy rates by school since the 2005–2006 school year, information from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention said.
The most cases of educational neglect are filed in Lowell town court where Lukasik-Rosenbaum is very active. Other cities and towns may not have the resources, Villarreal said.
In addition to the county truancy program, prosecutors volunteer for a substitute teacher program and are available to schools county-wide.
“We stared a substitute teacher program—prosecutors as teachers. We have volunteers from our staff serve as substitutes for a day. It allows for students to see a lawyer and they can talk about long-term goals. It lets lawyers go into the public and meet with the students and people they help protect on a daily basis. It helps them see who they are working for and it helps the schools and cities out financially because it is free. They don’t have to pay out funds for that day,” Villarreal said. He added that Lisa Beck is the administrative deputy for that program.
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