Student Engagement and School Completion (SESC)
The most important aspect to take away from our process, it is that Fort Worth ISD is about changing behavior, not punishment. If a student is not attending school, there is a reason. Poor attendance is a symptom of a larger issue(s). Our job is to find out what the issue(s) is/are and then find a solution(s) to help each student reach his greatest educational potential.
School attendance is essential to academic success. Too often, students, parents, and school personnel do not realize how quickly absences – excused as well as unexcused – can add up to academic trouble. When a student, for example, misses ten percent (10%) of the school year or just two-to-three days every month, these chronic absences can become a clear predictor for dropping out of school.
Chronic absences are an alarming, largely overlooked problem that prevents too many children from having a chance to learn and succeed. Truancy currently affects as many as 7.5 million students - more than one in 10 nationwide. Chronic absences can be reduced when parents/guardians, school personnel and community members collaborate to build a strong culture of attendance and work with students and families to identify barriers that prevent students from going to school. This collaboration begins by helping everyone in the community recognize that they have a stake and a role in ensuring that students are in school every day.
Truancy patterns have a direct and immediate correlation to student’s academic achievement and the overall completion rates for individual campuses and the entire school district. Often administrators are confronted with complex reasons for truancy. It becomes the responsibility of the parents and school staff to find solutions to attendance problems. Litigation is simply an option to rectify truancy issues.
The Comprehensive Truancy Initiative Program (CTIP) which is a part of the Department of Student Engagement and School Completion (SESC) Department, was a collaborative effort between the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD), City of Fort Worth Municipal Courts, Fort Worth Police Department, Tarrant County Juvenile Probation Department, and various mental health and social service providers based in our community. The program’s goal is to prevent students from dropping out and increase student attendance and enrollment in FWISD. One of the most significant portions of the program has been the Truancy Court which has the ability to hear truancy cases in a timely and relevant manner.
The court's original jurisdiction for truancy cases fell to the 323rd District Family Court. However, the volume and severity of juvenile cases rendered truancy cases a low priority in the Family Courts. The Texas Family Code (TFC) Section 54.021 allowed the transfer of these cases to a Municipal Court. The City of Fort Worth agreed to establish a dedicated Municipal Court that hears only Fort Worth ISD truancy cases. On April 16, 2001, the School Attendance Court opened in a building adjacent to Eastern Hills High School. This court was staffed by a full-time Municipal Court, Judge Sharon Newman-Stansfield with an extensive background and knowledge of Family Law and specifically School Attendance Laws. This allowed the judge the leeway to order students into substance abuse treatment, mental health counseling, and other community resources that addresses underlying issues that emerged as truancy. These issues included anger management, trauma, low self-esteem, grief, job skills programs, and/or mentoring programs; as well as provided family counseling and parenting classes to the parents.
In 2004, the American School Board Journal awarded CTIP the Magna Award as an outstanding truancy intervention program. From 2004-05 through the 2015-16 school years CTIP presented the Walter Dansby Tower Achievement Award to the most improved students who had a history of truancy. These students were recognized at the Tarrant County Commissioner's Court, the City of Ft Worth City Council Meeting and the FWISD School Board Meeting. This celebration evolved into what is now known as the Hope and Perseverance Award Ceremony.
During the 84th Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature passed HB 2398, entitled the Omnibus Truancy Reform Bill that required establishing a truancy committee appointed by the County Judge and Mayor, to create a truancy plan, addressing prevention and intervention strategies, uniform countywide truancy policies and providing recommendations to each school district located in Tarrant County. During the 2015-16 school year, sweeping changes were made to the landscape of truancy laws in the state of Texas. Original jurisdiction of truancy cases was expanded to include county courts, all justice courts, and municipal courts. Statewide changes required early intervention as opposed to court action. Fort Worth ISD court action was already on the decline. However, as a result, the number of truancy court referrals significantly dropped and the need for a dedicated court was eliminated. The City of Ft Worth Municipal courts continues to hear truancy cases during exclusive truancy dockets.
During the 2013-14 and 2014-15 years, the Justice For All Art Contest was established by the presiding Truancy Court judge, the Honorable Raquel Brown, to recognize the talents of students that had been referred to the court. The Hope and Perseverance Awards Ceremony was created during the 2016-17 year, to further recognize students and parents who had overcome challenges that hindered their matriculation.
In the 2019-2020 School Year the Student Engagement and School Completion Department was transferred from the Student Support Service Division to the Equity and Excellence Division.