By MARGIE WUEBKER
Mercer County Juvenile Court Judge Mary Pat Zitter believes
the new Juvenile Court Enrichment Program (JCEP) will nip truancy
in the bud and reduce the likelihood of school dropouts in the
“I am really excited about this program,” she said.
“Education is so important in today’s world. You
can’t do anything without a high school diploma —
the chances of getting ahead are slim to none.”
Any youth brought to court for truancy as well as those currently
on probation will be ordered into JCEP. The program requires
them to make up all unexcused absences, with the court and student’s
home school monitoring attendance.
Plans call for the program to operate during Christmas vacation,
spring break and summer months as needed. Students must spend
one day in JCEP for each day of unexcused absence. Three unexcused
tardy notices translate into a day at the designated location.
“It takes away all the glamour and defeats the purpose
of skipping school,” Zitter added. “No one wants
to sit in a classroom while friends enjoy time away from school.”
The court is in the process of contracting with the Mercer County
Educational Service Center to provide at least one classroom
and a teacher for the program. More could be needed depending
on attendance in the future.
Sessions would run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Participants
must bring assignments from their teacher or principal so they
can receive credit for missed assignments.
“Students who miss school regularly face the challenge
of trying to keep up,” Zitter said. “For some that
challenge is insurmountable. They fall behind their peers, gradually
lose interest and often leave school without a diploma.”
JCEP is designed to hold young people accountable for their
actions. Sixteen have been assigned to the program thus far.
Their parents will receive letters when and if make-up days
Parents are required to pay $10 per day, with the money required
in advance. In addition, they must provide lunch and transportation
to and from the site as neither cafeteria nor bus service is
“Ninety-five percent of parents want their children to
attend school regularly,” the judge said. “JCEP
makes the 5 percent who don’t care accountable.”
There are no idle threats when it comes to complying with court-ordered
participation. Students who choose to stay away face contempt
of court charges and the possibility of being sent to the West
Central Ohio Juvenile Detention Center in Troy. Parents then
would foot the $90 per day bill.
Zitter credits Nick Schulze, a probation officer with juvenile
court and county school attendance officer, who suggested the
JCEP concept. The probation staff then fine-tuned the plan.
In 2002, he received 480 calls regarding truancy issues. Many
turned out to be something else entirely, including parents
who simply forgot to call school and report their child’s
absence due to illness, appointments, funerals, etc. Some involved
families moving from a school district and failing to request
Ninety-four calls involved valid truancy issues, with a number
of youths deemed repeat offenders. One family alone accounted
for 11 calls, according to Schulze.
“Kids fall behind in school and then they lose interest,”
he said. “Placing them in detention only compounded the
problem. It really didn’t solve anything.”
Funding for the program will come from Reclaim Ohio, a state
grant, as well as the $10 daily fee participants pay.
“This is a positive step in the right direction,”
Zitter added. “It’s a teaching mechanism that lets
young people know there are certain responsibilities in life.
And one of them is attending school regularly or facing the