The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law December 2009
ADR @ Moritz

The Truancy Mediation Project

Clymer  BardsleyBy Clymer Bardsley
Langdon Fellow in Dispute Resolution

In these economic hard times, Moritzers are being proactive. The law school is stepping into the void created by government budget cuts, by providing mediation services to schools in truancy cases. Due to the hard work of Priya Tamilarasan, (a third year law student who is pursuing the certificate in dispute resolution) and the enthusiastic support of the Moritz faculty, the Dispute Resolution Association, and local court personnel and practitioners, like Marya Kolman, Ed Krauss, and Sheri Center, the mediations should begin sometime in February. Students from Moritz will have the opportunity to work with local school officials, students who are missing school, and their families.

So what? Truancy is a societal ill that is entwined, as both cause and effect, with other, better known societal ills like drug use, violent crime, unplanned pregnancies, and joblessness. Addressing the problem of truancy, it follows, is a way of addressing numerous problems affecting society. The single best way to do this is by using the process of mediation, thereby empowering the stakeholders—truant, parents, school officials—to listen to one another’s concerns and come up with the best resolution they can to address as many interests as possible.

Truancy mediation is not a new idea and many programs already exist. In Franklin County, unfortunately, many schools have drastically reduced the number of truancy mediations. Budget constraints prompted other schools to cut their truancy mediation programs completely. Absence of truancy mediation means that truancy cases are handled mainly as juvenile delinquency proceedings, compelling young people to defend themselves in court, sometimes as long as a year after the first school absence. No party to these cases finds that outcome desirable.

Confronting truancy at the time and place it occurs is a more logical and practical option. Doing so by using a collaborative problem-solving approach keeps the school officials, the student, and the family working together rather than creating a situation where they are adversaries. With these variables to the parties’ advantage, the chances of a desirable outcome necessarily increase. And, if a student should return to school in a manner in which he feels empowered, the likelihood that he becomes part of the cycle of poverty must necessarily diminish, as well.

None of what I have written should be seen as granting a pass to truants. I stand with President Barack Obama, who told his fellow citizens in February 2009, “dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It’s not just quitting on yourself, it’s quitting on your country – and this country needs and values the talents of every American.” Hence, the truants who choose to come to the mediation table with Moritz’s mediators must buy in to the process and outcomes as well.

I am hopeful for the prospects of Moritz’s Truancy Mediation Project. It has great leadership and support. It serves a group of citizens who are being overlooked by others in leadership positions. And, ultimately, it aims to improve our society by giving more individuals a chance to participate and succeed by letting them know that they have a seat at the negotiating table.

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The Caucus, the newsletter published by the Moritz Program on Dispute Resolution, is designed to share ADR news with the Moritz community and beyond, as well as provide Moritz students with information regarding externship and employment opportunities. Questions regarding this publication should be directed to Erin Archerd, Langdon Fellow in Dispute Resolution.