BECKLEY - A Raleigh County judge is putting increased pressure on local officials to help keep young students in school and out of jail.
Judge John Hutchison and officials from the West Virginia Department of Juvenile Services, the Department of Health and Human Resources, the Board of Education and the Raleigh County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday they will launch a more strict attack on truancy.
Officials told Newswatch that Raleigh County ranks 41st in the state in daily attendance rates. They believe more than 1,300 kids missed more than 20 days of school last year.
Raleigh County Schools Superintendent Jim Brown was by the side of prosecutors during Wednesday's press conference.
"It's really not about punishing people," Brown said. "It's about getting kids in school, and if there are issues that are complicating or creating challenges and preventing a child from coming to school, then hopefully through this process, we'll be able to target those and provide resources to fix that."
Courtroom officials hope to see students in court not more than three weeks after a petition has been filed. Hutchison hopes a collaborative effort will solve problems for more students and their parents.
"We're not going to mess around, and they need to understand that yeah, we're going to try to be helpful the first time, but the second or third time we're going to kindly be getting a little irritated, and we're going to be looking at options that they don't want to consider," Hutchison said.
Officials expect to attend hearings for 16 juveniles Thursday and several adult students on Monday.