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Juvenile Justice Reforms Have School Administrators Wondering How to Discipline Kids

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As Utah students go back to school this week administrators are still determining how to deal with those who are disruptive or chronically truant. Sweeping juvenile justice reforms passed this year require schools to find new ways to discipline kids without sending them to court.

Reforms state lawmakers passed this year dictate that schools can no longer refer kids to court for truancy. It puts a cap on fines and community service hours for youth sentenced for some offenses and limits the amount of time youth can be kept in juvenile detention or secure confinement.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and other non-profit groups are handing out brochures to help administrators and parents understand the new rules. The ACLU’s Anna Thomas says she wants to make sure the law is implemented appropriately.  

“We wanted to time it with the start of school because as kids head back to the classroom that’s where a lot of misconduct is noticed by government agencies and gets kids referred into the juvenile justice system,” Thomas says.

The law is supposed to provide alternatives to court appearances and out-of-home placements. But school administrators say they’re still not sure what those interventions will be or how to pay for them. Ben Horsley is a spokesman for Granite School District.

“You can’t just leave a student who is out of control and ungovernable in a school population,” Horsley says. “It literally can put a whole school on lockdown. It happens several times a week within Granite School District in and of itself.”

Horsley says district officials are meeting internally and with state leaders to nail down the details. But he says judges are already refusing court referrals.

“Those students are coming back to us,” Horsley says. “So it will be interesting to see how that will impact us and what we’re going to be able to do in the meantime until these additional interventions are paid for and are in place.”

Horsley says Granite School District alone anticipates having to pay between $1 million and $2 million to implement new programs and interventions. 

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