Lawmakers extend law which allows schools to refer truant students to court

The Utah State Legislature’s Education Interim Committee 2021 voted unanimously to extend the sunset provision for a law regarding juvenile justice on Wednesday, Oct. 20. (Sakina Steflik)

School districts can continue to refer a minor to court or law enforcement agencies after action by the Utah Legislature recently.

The statute applies to minors charged with Class C misdemeanors on school property or are truant. The sunset for this law — or a date when a law will expire — was extended for five years.

Patty Norman, Utah State Board of Education deputy superintendent of student achievement, told lawmakers on Oct. 20 that the current processes and interventions for habitual truancy were working and recommended for the provision to remain the same

“There is no villain, no one out there who hates kids. We are all looking for that same outcome for students, which is student success. They (the students) may have a behavior which can have an intervention.. and if that works, we can keep them from going into the juvenile justice system,” Norman said. 

According to the Utah State Board of Education, the number of habitual truancy referrals were 1,191 episodes in 2015, which dropped to 154 in 2020.

“Our superintendents have committed to working with their school administrators and parents working with students so that everybody understands the importance of this issue.” said Lexi Cunningham, executive director for the Utah State Superintendents Association. 

In a letter to the committee ,Utah Director of Juvenile Justice, Brett Peterson voiced his support for repealing the sunset of the statute and recommended an extension of five years. 

“When I look at something as transformational as juvenile reform in Utah, it is a journey. . . I think it [the extension] allows for additional data,” Brett Peterson said. 

Originally, this sunset section was set to repeal on July 1, 2022.

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