Saturday, May 28 , 2016, 9:34 pm | Fair with Haze 57º

Teen Court May Team Up with Countywide Truancy Program to Expand Reach

Officials explore partnership in effort to keep Santa Barbara County youth out of juvenile justice system

By Gina Potthoff, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @ginapotthoff |

Two organizations with the same goal — keeping students out of trouble — have opened talks to combine efforts.

Leaders of Santa Barbara County Teen Court say they hope working with the newly re-established countywide truancy program will result in fewer young people entering the juvenile-justice system.

Deputy District Attorney David Chen, who was hired over the summer to run the truancy program, met with members of the Teen Court Advisory Board this month to discuss what that partnership might look like.

Chen walked attendees through the new framework of the program, which was revived this school year after being lost to budget cuts in 2008.

He has been meeting with school district superintendents to figure out when to send “warn and concern” letters to parents and set up formal meetings with school administrators when students are truant, which refers to a student having more than three unexcused absences.

Where Teen Court falls in the cycle would depend a lot on school preference, said Chen, who noted that schools now are supposed to contact the District Attorney’s Office to participate in meetings of the Truancy Mediation Team or School Attendance Review Board.

Students who opt into Teen Court instead of going to a formal hearing in juvenile court can avoid a criminal record by being tried by a jury of their peers, with sentences that include serving jury duty in the court, community service, counseling and educational classes.

“Teen Court really has the same aim as our program,” Chen said. “That’s another resource we can add.”

The change would also allow Teen Court to expand its reach via the countywide program.

Teen Court has a new physical presence in Santa Ynez Valley schools as of earlier this month, said Teen Court program manager Britt Stanley.

The North County Teen Court program also will soon see a boost in funds because the South Coast’s program has received a grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.

The grant, which is one of only 10 awarded throughout the United States, will provide $200,000 for three years. Some existing human services funds will be diverted to the North County.

Stanley said this month that truant students could be given the same standard contract.

He also asked whether Lompoc Police Chief Larry Ralston, an advisory board member, could help get school resource officers more informed about Teen Court so they can make referrals as well.

“I see a majority of theses cases coming at the (Truancy Medication Team stage),” said Stanley, referring to a meeting a truant student would have with school administrators and law enforcement before going to SARB.

Program director Ed Cué said involving Teen Court in the truancy process could help get to the root of why students aren’t showing up to school without sending them in front of an actual judge.

The groups are still trying to work out logistics, but Stanley is confident that the partnership would benefit both parties.

“It’s a big-time leverage,” Stanley said. “I think it’s a good match.“

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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