Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2005

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Truant Baltimore City Students to Have Their Day in Court
By Tom Breihan

According to a recent article in The Baltimore Sun, about 30 percent of Baltimore City’s public school students are considered truant every year. “It is a fact that truancy is a huge problem,” says Gilbert Holmes, the Dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. “We can’t expect to have a well-educated citizenry in the future if 30 percent of our kids are not in school.”

To address this vital issue, the University of Baltimore School of Law has formed a partnership with the Baltimore City Circuit Court, the Baltimore City public school system and the Mayor’s office to create a system of truancy courts. Funded by a two-year grant from the Charles Crane Family Foundation, the truancy courts will be established at three city middle school and two elementary schools. If the program proves successful, organizers hope that the program can be expanded to more of the city’s schools.

“The expected outcomes are reducing truancy, increasing attendance, improving school performance, parent satisfaction, teacher and school personnel satisfaction and reduction in daytime crime in the communities where the schools are located,” says Barbara Babb, an associate professor at the School of Law and the Director of the Center for Families, Children and the Courts.

Every week, students involved in the program will meet with a volunteer judge, a representative of the school and the student’s parent or guardian. The judge will review a file on the student’s attendance, behavior and grades. “The judge engages the student in a conversation about whatever is in that file,” says Gloria Danziger, the Senior Fellow at the Center. “Over and above that, however, the judge can talk to the student about why there are issues. For example, there are some team-building exercises that the judge can engage in … It forges a strong connection between the judge and the student.”

According to Danziger, the program will also include University of Baltimore law students, who will preside over the truancy courts and act as links between the schools and the judges. “[Students will] be part of a therapeutic approach by the court to address a very significant social issue, so they’re going to get the experience of seeing how the law can be more than just a tool for advocacy and completing transactions; it can be a tool for social change,” says Holmes.

The problem of truancy is deeply interconnected with other urban problems like poverty and substance abuse, and the program seeks to address these problems. “The real therapeutic aspect of this program is that it aims to get at the underlying causes of truancy,” says Babb. “So for example, if a child is not attending school because they don’t have a uniform, or their clothes aren’t clean, or they need to stay home to take care of a sibling or to take care of a substance-abusing parent or a sick program, the program aims to get at the underlying causes and to try to remedy those.”

The program finds the law school reaching out to the community of Baltimore and taking on an active role in its problems. “This is the kind of activity that I envisioned the law school doing when I came here as dean, so it is one aspect of what we should be doing as a law school in the city of Baltimore,” says Holmes.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February, 2005

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