Removing barriers to students from the juvenile justice system

Removing barriers to students from the juvenile justice system

(Calif.) Nearly 66 percent of students released nationally from the juvenile court school system do not return to traditional school. In California, the landscape might be further complicated by an unstructured re-entry process that does not properly transfer credits and often penalizes students for losing textbooks or failing to pay fines.

In an effort to remove such barriers,  a state task force spent much of the past year reviewing district programs that successfully transition students from the juvenile justice system back to traditional school classrooms in an effort to create a statewide model for tracking and transferring student records and credits.

“This is a real important step in the right direction, especially looking at the data on how when students are transferring from juvenile court schools and returning to traditional school settings, there is too often a lag time where they may disappear or are not supported as they make efforts to move forward,” said Gordon Jackson, director of the California Department of Education’s Coordinated Student Support Division. “I think there is a general consensus that this is long overdue.”

In a presentation to the State Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention last week, Jackson noted that credit transfer and enrollment policies often impede a student’s smooth transition from a juvenile justice court school back to a traditional classroom.

AB 2276, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014, mandates that all students who have had contact with the juvenile justice system be allowed to enroll in a public school regardless of any outstanding fees, fines or missing textbooks, and even if they cannot produce records typically required for enrollment.

The fact that so many students who fall into the juvenile justice system do not return to school should not come as a surprise given a 2010 report from the Federal Interagency Reentry Council showing that nearly two-thirds of students did not make the transition. Many students enter the system functionally illiterate, reading at or below the fourth-grade level, and are often still behind upon their release.

According to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, more than one-third of the students entering the juvenile justice system have learning and other disabilities, and nearly half are English learners.

The Juvenile Court Student Transition Statewide Work Group, created under AB 2276 and convened by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, began last year examining district programs that were already successful in transitioning students out of juvenile court schools and into traditional programs. Much of that work has gone into a written plan for creating a transition model that can be replicated statewide.

Among its more alarming findings, Jackson reported, is that the group discovered districts that did not comply with statutes requiring the immediate enrollment of a student transitioning from a juvenile court school, sometimes due to past behavior problems, or because of issues with test scores or attendance.

Additionally, schools often disregarded or inaccurately applied credits earned in a juvenile court school, causing many students to fall behind and risk their ability to graduate on time.

Other key findings included poor communication between districts and county offices of education and probation, as well as slow transferals of complete and accurate student records.

To combat some of these and other issues, the work group recommended in its draft report the creation of a “Bill of Rights” for students transitioning between juvenile court schools and traditional schools.

The group did not have sufficient time to fully address all the issues identified in the authorizing legislation, Jackson said, and needs more time to fully examine practices around juvenile court student transitions into public schools.

“There is, indeed, more to do and the recommendation is for reauthorization for fiscal year 2016-17 with a report to the Legislature due on January 1, 2018,” Jackson said.