Northampton Press

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Family Project: Son and truancy

Thursday, December 7, 2017 by CAROLE GORNEY Special to The Press in Focus

Q. A truancy officer was called to my house because my son is refusing to go to school. We are going to have to appear in front of the magistrate, and could possibly be facing a fine for each day that he missed. What can we do?

Guest panelist Jessica Baker addressed this topic and the approach to it in detail. “First thing, we definitely need to know the age of the child,” she said. “We also need to define the barriers that are getting in the way of the child wanting to go to school. Does he have anxiety? Is he having a panic attack? Is he afraid to go to school for some reason? Does he have a parent or teacher conflict or is it just a defiance issue?” Baker said that it’s important to become allies with the school because ultimately schools want to work with families. Whether it is the school principal, an administrator, guidance counselor or social service agencies that are there to engage parents, “it is to everyone’s benefit to have a partnership,” she said, noting that it also is important to make sure that the school has the right data. Do they have the right information and the right student?

Once that is sorted out, Baker continued, there needs to be a plan of action so by the time the parents go to the magistrate they have identified who the stakeholders are to support the child, what the barriers are and how everyone is going to work together in partnership in order to get the child back to school. In discussing allies, it was noted that the state requires every school district to have a truancy intervention plan, and in Lehigh County every school has one.

Panelist Mike Daniels cautioned the parent not to assume that the son is just being defiant. “There are many reasons for truancy: fear, panic, bullying. Another consideration is that if there is a breakup in the family, a child may be afraid to leave his mother’s side.

Panelist Chad Stefanyak explained that the age of the son might indicate what some of the barriers are to his not wanting to go to school. Sometimes there is an anxiety issue and sometimes the student doesn’t see the value in going to classes. If he is a high school student he is seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and he may not see the relevance of staying in school, Stefanyak said. “That is easier to deal with since in high school there are more choices and the student can choose courses more appropriate to his skills set. With older students, we can start with ‘What are your goals?’ We can then make the courses a means to an end rather than something that seems to go on forever.”

Pennsylvania has changed its Act 138 to clearly define truancy for the first time, according to Baker. The law now defines truancy as three unexcused absences, and habitual truancy as six unexcused absences. Panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo emphasized that parents need to be informed about the new law, and she said it as the responsibility of teachers and counselors to make sure parents understand the regulations. Panelist Mike Daniels urged the parent not to panic because the magistrate’s role is not to fine parents, because money doesn’t do anything for the child’s education. Rather, the magistrate is looking for the parent to stay connected to the system. That is what is going to help the child stay in school. This week’s team of parenting experts are: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Joanne Nigito-Raftas, Registered Play Therapist; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Adolescent Psychotherapist; Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor, and Jessica Baker, Communities in Schools of the Lehigh Valley. Have a question? Email: The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration between the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.