Courts & Justice Partners on Truancy and School Discipline

"You might ask,

'Why does school discipline have anything to do with justice?'

I see a looming problem out there if we aren't responsible for our youth, if we don't return them to school, if we don't keep them in school, if we don't help them become productive citizens, we are paving the way for entry, not only into the juvenile justice system, but the adult justice system...

We know we have collaborative restorative partnerships that we can bring to bridge to the schools so that we can accomplish much...

We have work to do."

 — Chief Justice Tani G.Cantil-Sakauye


Video courtesy of Health Happens Here, The California Endowment.

Why truancy and school discipline matter to the courts

Recent research has shown that school discipline and attendance policies may be counterproductive and lead to disengaging youth from school rather than improving student behavior and overall educational outcomes. This disengagement affects the courts in a number of ways. Because youth who are truant or subject to school discipline that keeps them out of school are more likely to become involved in the juvenile justice system, policy changes that improve attendance and the use of out-of-school suspension will reduce the number of juvenile offenders who come before the court. Data suggests that children in foster care are more likely to struggle with school discipline issues and attendance problems, which do not serve their interests. Because juvenile courts regularly review the status of these youth, the court has an opportunity to ensure that the educational needs of foster youth are addressed and educational outcomes are improved.

The Chief Justice attended a New York conference in March 2012 that inspired the California Keeping Kids in School and Out of Court Initiative. The conference was a call to action for members of the judiciary to use their powers as conveners and leaders to begin forging and maintaining productive collaborations with key stakeholders to curb these disturbing truancy and school policy trends. Differing communities have successfully used this collaborative approach in various ways—for example, by forming court/school partnerships, including truancy and other collaborative courts, and modifying disciplinary policy to effectively address behavior problems earlier so that students can successfully remain in school and out of court.

How can the courts and their partners address the problems associated with truancy and school discipline?

Effective intervention is based on a shared understanding that truancy and school discipline are community problems and no one system or agency can handle these issues alone. It is also important to recognize that students and their families are likely to be experiencing underlying problems that contribute to truancy or school behavior issues, so interventions should involve addressing child and family issues holistically. Agencies and systems should work together to develop a continuum of responses that involve the use of incentives and sanctions and progressive responses as problems escalate.

For more information on how courts have worked with their partners to address truancy and school discipline, see:



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