In Your Corner: Column’s panel is here to help teens

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of columns about youth welfare on the island.

When Taren Fujimoto left for college, she invited someone to take over her question-and-answer column, “Taren’s Tips for Teens.” At about the same time a group of caring, concerned individuals was forming to plan for Kaua‘i youth-offender services and prevention.

It seemed a good idea that this group, whose members are already communicating about youth welfare, be available publicly to answer questions that youth on Kaua‘i might have.

The group’s members are K.C. Lum, Kaua‘i Police Department chief; Craig De Costa, county prosecuting attorney; Catherine Stovall, community-response specialist, County of Kaua‘i; Edmund Acoba, public defender; Annaleah Atkinson, Teen Court manager for Hale ‘Opio Kaua‘i Inc.; and Paul Curtis, associate editor of The Garden Island.

“In Your Corner” is a phrase that connotes support. Its origin comes from boxing. In between rounds, the boxer retires to his corner, and a group of people coach him, give him medical attention, water, and cheer him on.

Life for all at any age can sometimes feel like a round of boxing. Believing that others care for us, and receiving their help and mentoring, has been proven to help people of any age who have made mistakes get back on track.

Every one of the contributors represents many more who care about the youth on Kaua‘i. They want youth to be informed, and have a place where their questions can be answered in print, so they can know better those who make important decisions for them.

This column will be a venue for informing teens, parents and others, about laws, customs, and legal offenses of the island and across the state.

Teens may write in their questions about laws, KPD, the state Department of the Judiciary, or how to get their needs met in the best way.

Also, teens are invited join in the corner for others. If they have found some information worthy to share, it will be printed for other teens. It has to come from a verifiable source.

The space will also be used at times as a calendar for important programs and issues for youth.

It is hoped that teachers and other youth workers will read this column weekly, and at times use it as a teaching resource.

A problem at this time of year is truancy, or lack of school attendance. Hawaii Revised Statute 571-11 (2) C states that court judges shall have jurisdiction over a juvenile “Who is neither attending school nor receiving educational services required by law whether through the child’s own misbehavior or nonattendance.” That translates to mean that if a child is expected to be in a class and doesn’t attend, he or she is interfering with his or her education, and has broken the law.

These are the legal exceptions:

• The child is physically or mentally unable to attend school. This needs a doctor’s note;

• The child is 15 or over, suitably employed, and has been excused by the superintendent, his representative, or by a Family Court judge. The employer must notify school officials within three days upon termination of the child’s employment;

• The child has graduated from high school;

• The child is enrolled in an appropriate alternative educational program as approved by the superintendent or his representative;

• The child is home schooled, and has that intent has been submitted to the principal of the public school that the child would otherwise be attending;

• The child is 16;

The principal has determined that the child has engaged in disruptive behavior to other students, teachers, or staff;

• The principal, a teacher or counselor, and an adult having legal responsibility for the child, develops an alternative educational plan.

• Where upon investigation by the family court, it has been shown that for any other reason the child should not be compelled to attend school.

One of the reasons that it is a law to stay in school is that truancy is a gateway to later crime, statistics have shown.

Judge Bruce Newman wrote an article stating that “students who become truant and eventually drop out of school set themselves up for a life of struggle by putting themselves at a long-term disadvantage.

“High-school dropouts, for example, are two times more likely to be on welfare than high school graduates,” he wrote.

“In addition, high-school dropouts who were employed earned much lower salaries. When kids skip school, they tend to get into trouble. More that 82 percent of prisoners today are school dropouts.” In Kaua‘i’s high schools, students are informed at freshman orientation that cutting classes is against the law.

In the past the law was interpreted by some that you wouldn’t get busted for truancy if you were on school grounds. However, the law states that a child can’t interfere with his education.

Not attending classes interferes with a student’s education, so Kaua‘i principals and vice principals are asking officers to detain students for non-attendance, even if students are on the school grounds.

Students having difficulty with particular classes are asked to not give up, and not be afraid to ask for help. Ask teachers to explain subjects in another way, or tell the students how to get some tutoring.

Youngsters need to be able to read, write, and do math to make good choices. Family members work to care for youngsters by having jobs to go to.

It is the students’ jobs to go to school to prepare to be able to work and create a life so they can care for themselves and their loved ones.

Questions for this column may be e-mailed to Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org, or sent through the U.S. Postal Service to her at Annaleah Atkinson, 2959 ‘Umi St., Lihu‘e, HI 96766.

She will forward them to the one who can most appropriately answer them.

There is also a toll-free Teen Hotline, 1-877-521-TEEN (1-877-521-8336).

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