5 Days to Life: Will’s Story

When a chronically sick, honor roll student is referred to court for truancy, that’s a problem.

TruancyStory-Hill-1Will is a hardworking middle-school student with a 4.0 GPA who never gets in trouble at school. His mom, Maria, is the director of a community center in Huntington, WV that provides after school programming for students and safe spaces for adults and families to enjoy various recreation activities as well as free evening meals every day.

Will, an honor roll student who loves theatre and dance and aspires to become a dermatologist, has suffered from asthma and severe allergies his whole life. His mother frequently foregoes an expensive trip to the doctor’s office and treats Will at home. This economic decision excludes her the opportunity to request a written doctor’s excuse validating her son’s condition and justifying his absence in the eyes of the school system.

TruancyStory-Hill-5Between documented medical absences and absences when Maria keeps Will at home because of severe asthma and allergies, Maria occasionally receives letters in the mail stating that Will has reached the maximum threshold of 5 unexcused absences and triggers court referrals for truancy. Additionally, Will is called into the principal’s office and with a guidance counselor told he will be assigned a probation officer if his truant behavior continues.

Being a vigilant parent, Maria scrambles to obtain doctor’s and nurse’s notes and any proof of Will’s condition to excuse him for his absences and protect him from touching the juvenile justice system for truancy. Eventually, after a time-consuming process, the school accepts the documentation Maria provides. Had Maria not been persistent or able to successfully obtain medical documentation, Will’s story may have had a much different ending.

For many of West Virginia’s first-time truant children, their story does not have a happy ending. The current law in West Virginia only allows for 5 unexcused absences per academic year. As a result, 1 in 3 West Virginia children are considered truant. Students referred to court for truancy are placed in out-of-home facilities for an average of 450 days and should they be returned home and to their school system, they are so far behind that their probability of graduation is low and their risk of re-entering the justice system as an adult is high. West Virginia kids, like Will, deserve a fighting chance – let’s keep students out of court and in school. Missing 5 days of school should not result in a lifetime of consequences. #5daystolife

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