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(Protesting Insane Staunton School Truancy Enforcement)

It is error alone which needs the support of government, truth can stand by itself.
—Thomas Jefferson in Notes on the State of Virginia

HomeData and prosecutionsKaye Roberts
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QUICK LINKS TO DATA:
Augusta County Schools
Harrisonburg City Schools
Staunton City Schools 2006-2009
Staunton City Schools 2009-2012
Waynesboro City Schools

The prosecution data from Staunton (linked to above) shows that only in the last two years have the Staunton City Schools started aggressively enforcing truancy laws against adults. There was only one prosecution during the 2009-10 school year and it was dismissed. During the 2010-2011 school year there were 20 prosecutions and 11 of them were dismissed. This number could rise, as 5 of them are still pending. During the 2011-2012 school year, so far, there have been 19 prosecutions, all but one of which are still pending (one dismissed). The data seems to show incompetence if not outright overzealousness. Is a 55% dismissal rate normal? These charges should not have been brought. Dispositions of guilty in the normal world seem to be above 90% in general. This is probably because in the real world, mostly guilty people are charged. Not in Staunton. In Virginia, and everywhere in this country, prosecutors are only supposed to bring charges if they believe that there is probable cause that the defendent is guilty. You can read it for yourself here in the Professional Guidelines of the Virginia State Bar Association. Is it plausible that 55% of steely-eyed Anne F. Reed's charges under the truancy law are dismissed and she thinks there's probable cause in all of them? Not to us it isn't.

Another correspondent of ours tells us that dismissal rates this high are actually common for low-level misdemeanors. The court holds the charges over the perpetrator's head until they rehabilitate themselves and then dismisses the charges. This would also explain why there are no dispositions of "not guilty." This is possibly appropriate in drug courts or elsewhere, but it is an awfully blunt instrument for enforcing school attendance. This doesn't explain why not a single other school district in our sample has any of its truancy cases dismissed. How are Smallwood, Reed, and Roberts deciding which ones to prosecute? They are not doing a good job of it compared with their peers, none of which has had a single truancy case dismissed over the last five years.

AUGUSTA COUNTY: A correspondent of ours received a prompt, polite, professional response from Augusta County Schools Assistant Superintendent George Earhart. It turns out that over there, they don't prosecute anyone. What a radical idea, no? The request was for prosecutions from 2006 to the present, although it doesn't say so in the detailed data here.
2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending


HARRISONBURG: Note that all of Harrisonburg's dispositions are guilty, with none dismissed. This makes it seem even more likely that Smallwood, Roberts, and Reed are making bad choices about which cases to prosecute. Detailed data here.
2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07
0 dismissed
17 guilty
2 pending
0 dismissed
14 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
14 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
36 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
35 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
35 guilty
0 pending


STAUNTON: Note the number of dismissals. Detailed data here (2006-2009) and here (2009-2012)
2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07
1 dismissed
0 guilty
18 pending
11 dismissed
4 guilty
5 pending
1 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
1 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
6 guilty
0 pending
2 dismissed
3 guilty
0 pending


WAYNESBORO: We have numbers from the Waynesboro City Schools, received by our correspondent promptly and politely from Superintendent Robin Crowder. Detailed data here:
2011-12 2010-11 2009-10 2008-09 2007-08 2006-07
0 dismissed
1 guilty
1 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
3 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
0 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
7 guilty
0 pending
0 dismissed
5 guilty
0 pending

These cases were all disposed of as guilty except for one in 2011-12 which is still pending. None of these cases were dismissed. This seems to us to say that the Waynesboro schools are filing charges which have some merit to them, and they are filing them in small, appropriate numbers. Why has Staunton been so out of line with other schools in the area for the last two years?

Stay tuned. Our correspondent has FOIA requests pending with Staunton Commonwealth's Attorney Raymond C. Robertson (robertsonrc@ci.staunton.va.us), who is being remarkably uncooperative and doesn't seem to have read the law very carefully. We'll share the news with you as it's provided to us.
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