The New York Times looks at Attendance Court, an experimental two-year-old program that is applying judicial “problem-solving” ideas to the tens of thousands of New York public-school students who miss weeks of school every year. Chronic truants get into the program after their parents get a letter from their child's principal moderately threatening legal consequences and offering Attendance Court's services. The program has no power to punish, but provides coordinated access to services like counseling and tutoring, as well as occasional tough talk by retired judges in hearings every two weeks.
One of the national court trends for adults in recent years has been the creation of more than 3,000 new problem-solving courts across the country. Similar courts have been tried in Buffalo, St. Louis and Kentucky. In general, they connect defendants with social services and treatment for problems likes drugs and domestic violence. Hoping that similar help, mixed with an aura of judicial authority, may reduce school absences, the city has been trying out Attendance Courts in three schools, one in Brooklyn and two in East Harlem. It is too early for definitive results, and the Attendance Court program is small, with some 45 chronically truant middle and elementary school participants a year. But early results show that attendance increases sharply.