School Board hears details of new Truancy Intervention Program

July 18, 2017

Members of the Aiken County School Board heard a presentation on a new program Tuesday to help fight and reduce truancy and keep Aiken County Public Schools’ students in classrooms and out of the legal system.

At the board’s regular meeting, Serena McDaniel, an assistant solicitor and juvenile prosecutor for Aiken County, outlined the details of the Truancy Intervention Program.

The program “will serve as an added preventative measure in the district’s continued effort to see that all Aiken County students remain in school,” according to a news release the district issued after the meeting.

The program, created through a multi-agency collaboration, will begin in the upcoming 2017-18 school year.

"Our goal is to help families and students understand the importance of attending school,” District Superintendent Dr. Sean Alford said. “We do not have the desire to engage families in the court system due to truancy.”

Students who agree to participate in the program will sign a contract stating their intention to be compliant and to undergo certain conditions or prerequisites for a given time period.

If the student cooperates and successfully complies with the attendance requirements, they will be able to avoid an appearance in family court.

These students also will be less likely to require a formal court appearance in the future or encounter the criminal justice system.

To create the program, the District worked with Second Circuit Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. and the Aiken County Solicitor’s Office, the Aiken County Clerk of Court Robert Harte and the Clerk of Court’s Office, the Department of Juvenile Justice, the Public Defender’s Office, the Aiken Department of Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff’s Office.

Thurmond said the program is designed to help break the cycle of truancy in Aiken County, leading to more high school graduates and fewer instances of incarceration, according to the release.

“The domino effect beginning with truancy in students ages 12 to 16 and leading to increased high school dropout rates and contact with the criminal justice system has been well-established,” Thurmond said. “This program seeks to break that cycle through early intervention and by identifying and correcting the causes of truancy. Our goal is to give every Aiken County student the opportunity to stay in school.”

“I am thrilled that our solicitor is a proactive advocate for children in Aiken County," Alford said.

As an informational item, the adoption of the program did not require board action, but the board “fully supported” it, according to the district’s release.

During the superintendent’s update, Alford said the district would begin offering extended-day programs at all district elementary schools and three middle schools beginning with the new school year, which starts Aug. 23 for students.

“We’re excited to be able to offer a high-quality, after-school opportunity,” Alford said. “Parents, your children can have homework help or some assistance with opportunities to explore literacy and numeracy, and also play in a safe, secure environment. As long as you pick them up by 6 o’clock every day, you’re good.”

Alford and other board members also thanked Board Member Ronnie West, who submitted his resignation May 23 and whose last meeting was Tuesday, for his work on the board.

“Mr. West, we’re going to miss you,” Alford said. “If nobody told you, we meet every other Tuesday night. We’ve got plenty of seats out here you can occupy. If you want to just come and hang out with us, we’d certainly like to have you here.”

West said “it was a privilege and honor” with work with the other board members.

“I want to thank you for everything you did for me,” he said. “You changed my life in a lot of ways. I’ve learned a lot.”