Juvenile courts in Washington can prove only about half the time that they’re alerting schools when one of their students has committed a crime, according to a performance audit from the Washington State Auditor’s Office.
State law requires that juvenile courts alert schools when their students are convicted, adjudicated or enter into a diversion program after committing any of more than 330 offenses. According to the auditor’s office, that amounts to 10,000 notices that must be made in any given year.
Audited courts proved they made 51 percent of those notices. In another 29 percent of cases, courts said they’d made the notification but didn’t have a record of doing so.
Locally, the numbers are lower: Clark County Juvenile Court verified sending 29 percent of the notices in the cases the auditor’s office looked at. In 18 percent of those cases, notification may have been sent but couldn’t be verified.
But in the audit notes there are “gaps and breakdowns in the processes state agencies, courts and law enforcement use to send information to schools and districts” that agencies began working to correct even before the audit was released last month. The auditor’s office started a workgroup to consider potential legal changes to streamline the process, and advised the Legislature formalize that group.
“The processes were mandated at different times over a period of more than 20 years, with different contexts and different authorizing environments,” the audit reads. “An automated system would bring consistency across notification processes, limit the potential for human error, provide verification of receipt, allow for monitoring of completeness and accuracy, and provide information to appropriate staff on a need-to-know basis.”
It’s important to note that while state law requires the notification be made, it does not specify how that happens, or whether proof of notification be kept at all. That means in the eyes of the law, a juvenile parole officer calling a local principal is just as good as sending a paper form informing them of the student’s crime.
But not keeping a record can open districts to the risk of lawsuits if someone disputes whether notification was made in the first place, according to the audit.
“It would certainly be useful in the future if anyone questioned whether the notification was sent,” said Lori Garretson, senior performance auditor. “It’s also helpful for the courts themselves in managing their own process.”
When schools know that a student is returning to school after a stint in juvenile court, they put together what’s called a re-engagement plan for those students, said Trish Piliado, director of student welfare and attendance for Vancouver Public Schools. That means looking at students’ grades, credits and attendance to determine where they’re struggling and how schools can help, she said. Sometimes it also means connecting students with drug treatment resources, or organizations that can help their families.
“It’s important for us to know, and not just because we want to be leery of a kid,” she said. “We want them to be successful.”