187 Harry S. Truman Parkway
Annapolis, Maryland 21401
Prince George’s County Truancy Reduction Court addresses technology gap and accessibility amid COVID-19
“...We have continued to engage with our clients during the pandemic to ensure that they have the tools that they need to continue their school work.”
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Truancy Reduction Court for the Prince George’s County Circuit Court has embraced the new realities experienced by participants and their families. Due to mandated social distancing guidelines, the Truancy Reduction Court began a remote docket that complemented the participants’ virtual learning requirements with curriculum from Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS) and Denney House, a local contracted tutoring service.
Maryland statute, Education § 7–301, requires compulsory school attendance for children five years and older and under the age of 18 living in the state.
The Prince George’s County Truancy Reduction Court’s mission is to enhance the academic success of each participant. In a phased approach, participants focus on improving school attendance, achieving academic improvement, and identifying causes of reoccurring truancy with the local school district, partner organizations, and parents.
“It is critical that the Truancy Court program remains consistent for students during these trying times, and when their families need us most,” said Chief and Administrative Judge Sheila R. Tillerson Adams, Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. “With the transition from in-person to remote learning platforms, we continue to focus on the participants’ progress and seek to cultivate an environment where they can be most successful.”
In March, the transition from in-person to remote dockets became difficult for some families experiencing financial hardships.
During the pandemic, seven families in the Truancy Reduction Court experienced job loss. Another seven families experienced a reduction of work hours and one family experienced eviction as a result of job loss.
Truancy Reduction Coordinator Sally Reed learned that families experiencing financial challenges did not have access to the technology needed to participate in the remote dockets and facilitate virtual learning.
“Like a lot of families across the country, many of the families we serve were not prepared for the sudden transition to online learning,” said Reed. “By maintaining regular contact, we were able to assist with bridging the technology gap by identifying those who needed internet service, a computer, and we were able to connect families to the appropriate school staff.”
Seven families in the Truancy Reduction Program applied for Chromebooks with PGCPS.
The Prince George’s County Circuit Court Truancy Reduction Court, presided over by Magistrate Althea R. Stewart Jones, resumed virtual dockets in May.
“I am glad that we have continued to engage with our clients during the pandemic to ensure that they have the tools that they need to continue their school work,” said Magistrate Stewart Jones. “It really would have been difficult for the students and parents to navigate these issues on their own during these unchartered times.”
After their remote weekly docket, participants were offered virtual tutoring sessions with Denney House until the end of the school year in June. Denney House is a local partner organization with the Truancy Reduction Court and helps participants to achieve academic success. Their services are provided throughout the school year for participants.
On May 8, Truancy Reduction Court held its first remote graduation and seven participants graduated.
During the summer months, Truancy Reduction Court focuses on preparing participants for the upcoming school year.
“We are preparing them now for the new school year so that they will be ready to jump in,” said Magistrate Stewart Jones.
In doing so, PGCPS offered virtual summer school at no cost to students across the county. 10 out of the 20 Truancy Reduction Court participants are currently enrolled in virtual summer school.
As of August 2020, 12 out of 20 participants’ families are Limited English Proficient. Case Manager Anja Fernandez works directly with families in need of a language interpreter.
“Working as a case manager during this critical time, revealed the true nature of our program,” said Fernandez. “We worked harder than ever to advocate for families by ensuring their needs are met and understood.”
This fall, the Truancy Reduction Court and PGCPS are working closely in developing a memorandum of understanding in defining virtual school attendance and participation in the Truancy Program.
Participants are preparing to begin school remotely for the first time in the history of PGCPS.
The next graduation for Truancy Reduction Court is scheduled for December 2020.
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(August 25, 2020)