Truancy an Issue as Summer Vacation Nears

As summer vacation nears, many schools in Utah see an uptick in truancy, making it one last problem to work out before the end of the school year.

Taking summer vacation early

Truancy
Photo by: Jaap Joris

In preparation for summer vacation, most teachers spend the last days or weeks of school tying up loose ends and grading papers, leaving their students to wonder what the purpose is in coming to school. If their finals are completed and assignments are no longer being accepted, what is to stop them from starting their summer vacation early?

Required school days

The State of Utah requires that school age minors attend school for 180 days a year with allowances for occasional absences due to: an illness, family emergency, or school functions such as out of town sports competition. Being the end of the school year is not accepted as a reason for not showing up to class. When a student misses school on a regular basis without a valid excuse, it is considered truancy.

Truancy laws

Photo by: Christopher Webb
Photo by: Christopher Webb

Utah Code 53A-11-1 discusses punishment of truancy by stating when a student over the age of 12 has been truant at least five times during one school year they may be given a notice of truancy. If they are truant 10 times or they do not “cooperate with efforts on the part of school authorities to resolve the minor’s attendance problem ( . . . )” they are considered to be a habitual truant and will be issued a habitual truant citation. The only exceptions to this is if the student is maintaining at least a 3.5 GPA and is 16 years of age or older.

Juvenile court

When a student is given a habitual truant citation, they are then at the mercy of the juvenile court system and can face fines or juvenile detention. Not only are the students at risk of getting into trouble, so are their parents. Parents who “intentionally or recklessly fail to meet with the designated school authorities, or fail to prevent the school age child from being absent without a valid excuse” may face a class B misdemeanor and jail time. Students and parents are encouraged to stick it out for the remainder of the school year and seek an attorney if truancy issues have already included the criminal or juvenile courts.

Prank on Sleeping Student Could be Considered Assault

A prank on a sleeping student in Monroe Utah could be considered assault… if they ever find the prankster.

Snip snip

Photo by: Christian Schnettelker
Photo by: Christian Schnettelker

18 year old Sydnee Anderson, a senior at South Sevier High School fell asleep in one of her classes only to discover later that during her nap someone had cut off a lock of her hair. Anderson didn’t notice that some of her hair was missing until later when she tried to put her hair in a ponytail. To make matters worse, the prankster posted a confession of the hair cutting on an anonymous app available to all the students in Sydnee’s school.

Prank turned assault?

Photo by: Rum Bucolic Ape
Photo by: Rum Bucolic Ape

While many see this as a case of cyber bulling, others may look at it as assault. Utah code 76-5-102 states that “Assault is . . . an act, committed with unlawful force or violence, that causes bodily injury to another . . .” Although hair is technically dead cells, when it is still attached to the head it could be seen as part of the body and an act of violence against the hair could be claimed as an act of assault. Likewise, some could claim the scissors were a weapon in the assault to increase the charges. Assault charges in a case like this may be a long shot, but it’s not worth the risk of jail and a fine for a joke.

When a joke goes too far

The intentions of the student who cut Anderson’s hair are unknown, as is the identification of the amateur hairdresser. No one knows for sure if the other student meant this as a form of cyberbullying or if they realized the possibility of assault charges if caught. Teens who have taken a joke too far and are now facing charges should contact a juvenile defense attorney as soon as possible.

Vandalism to Church by Utah Teens

Two Weber County, Utah teens were arrested earlier this month for vandalism done to a church. The spray painted anti-religious symbols were similar to other vandalism to churches done earlier this year in St. George, Utah and Duchesne, Utah. Churches aren’t the only target; schools are often broken into and damaged as well, sometimes simply as a way to “celebrate” the end of year.

Photo by: Daniel Lobo
Photo by: Daniel Lobo

Frequent targets

Vandalism can occur to a variety of things such as: vehicles, homes, outbuildings, overpasses, & parks. While all vandalism is illegal, damaging schools and churches that are meant for secular or religious teachings is disappointing.

Prevention

There is speculation as to why teens are targeting schools and churches. There may be animosity towards certain teachers or principals at their school. Sometimes the reason is frustration over school bullies or bad grades that lead them to take out their frustration through vandalism. Targeting churches is commonly done by those not of that religious denomination, or possibly by those that feel rejected or are treated unkindly by members of that faith. These bad feelings towards people often leads teens channel their anger into vandalism.

Possible felony charges

Vandalism is considered criminal mischief and the law and penalties are the same for teens and adults. Frequently for minor vandalism, the punishment for the teens is a fine and restitution or community service. Unfortunately for the teens in Weber County, they are facing felony charges. Additionally, other crimes such as burglary and theft are common along with criminal mischief. The penalties for those can range from misdemeanors to felonies. For teens who are facing criminal mischief charges for vandalism, contact a juvenile criminal defense attorney to help you achieve the slightest penalty possible.

Bomb Threat Closes Utah High School; Equals Making a False Alarm Charges

High School Bomb Threat Equals Making a False Alarm
Photo: Alexandre Dulaunoy

On what was supposed to be the first day of school for Westlake High School students on Tuesday, August 19, classes were cancelled as the result of a bomb threat with promises of other violence. If caught, the perpetrator could face “making a false alarm” charges or potentially worse, conspiracy to commit mass destruction.

Potentially a Student Who Really Didn’t Want to Start School

On Tuesday morning just before 3 a.m., Saratoga Springs Police received a call from the perpetrator via Skype claiming that he had planted 10 explosives in the high school and left an offshore bank account number under a chair in the school auditorium where $10 million was to be deposited. If he didn’t receive the money, he claimed he would carry out the bomb threat. He also threatened to show up at the school with more explosives and guns and “open fire” if he thought anyone was trying to deactivate the bombs.

According to a report from KSL News, Saratoga Springs Police Chief Andrew Burton stated that the caller knew enough about the layout of the school to be a concern and to take the threat seriously. This fact, combined with two other strange incidents in the previous week–an individual on the roof with no good cause, and a janitor later finding ceiling tiles removed from parts of the school–was enough for police to lock down the building. As many students and parents were notified as possible, but those who didn’t hear and showed up to school were turned away.

Police searched the building with bomb-sniffing dogs but did not locate any explosives. School started officially for Westlake High School on Wednesday. Police are still investigating who is responsible for this instance of making a false alarm.

Penalty for Making a False Alarm

According to the Utah Criminal Code 76-9-105, “a person is guilty of making a false alarm if he initiates or circulates a report or warning of any fire, impending bombing, or other crime or catastrophe, knowing that the report or warning is false or baseless and is likely to cause evacuation of any building, place of assembly, or facility of public transport, to cause public inconvenience or alarm or action of any sort by any official or volunteer agency organized to death with emergencies.”

In other words, calling in a fake bomb threat is the criminal equivalent of making a false alarm. At the least, it is considered a class B misdemeanor. However, in more serious charges, such as the case of the two students in Roy, Utah, at the beginning of 2012, it can also be considered a second degree felony if one is “making a false alarm relating to a weapon of mass destruction.”

While it hasn’t been determined if the perpetrator of the incident at Westlake High School was actually a student, it probably wouldn’t be very surprising. Many adults can think back to times (usually just before a big test, right?) when they considered at least pulling the fire alarm. However, what most juveniles don’t realize is the seriousness of the offense.

If your child has been charged with making a false alarm, it’s important that you consult with an experienced and sympathetic juvenile defense attorney who will remember their own days of being young and look out for the best interests of those who are still in this stage.

Bullying in Utah

Bullying in Utah
Photo: Thomas Ricker

Even with all the recent awareness campaigns and public service announcements, bullying is still a big problem in Utah schools. Parents of victims and alleged bullies alike are wondering what can be done.

Recent Bullying News Goes Viral

While certainly not the first news story about bullying, a recent incident at Rock Cut Elementary in Loves Park, Illinois, has gone viral as the result of one mother’s actions.

According to Carmen Divan, her nine-year-old son Payten has been experiencing bullying all year long and has the physical reminders to prove it, including bite marks, bruises and scratches.

Like many similar stories, Divan claims that multiple meetings with school leaders have done nothing to remedy the problem. At the last meeting, Divan stated that the principal told her that the kids were “just antsy” as a result of the school year ending.

Unhappy with these results, Divan posted photos on Facebook of her son’s injuries. This post has been linked with another Facebook page called ‘Bullying at Rock Cut Elementary and Harlem School District,” which already has multiple comments of similar incidents. Divan hopes this will get the attention of the school district.

The Bullying Statistics are Startling

When it comes to the numbers, it’s understandable why there has been such a surge in awareness campaigns. Almost eighty percent of students have admitted to being a victim of bullying at some point. Two out of every three students claim to be physically or verbally harassed every year, and every thirty minutes a teenager attempts suicide as a result of being bullied.

While the statistics in Utah aren’t as high as the national numbers, they still are startling. Approximately one out of every five students in Utah is affected by bullying, and more than half of Utah students witness some form of bullying every day.

Helping Victims and Bullies

If you believe your child has been bullied, several resources exist to help you figure out what to do next. The important thing is to make sure you keep lines of communication between you and your child open enough so they feel comfortable talking to you about any inappropriate behavior they are experiencing or witnessing. For bullying resources from the Utah Parent Center, click here.

The Utah Parent Center also has resources to help parents who find out it is their child who is the bully. Attempt to address the problem before it becomes a major issue. It is important that parents realize that victims of bullying can seek resolution through criminal or civil law. If you have any questions about these laws, or if your child is being accused of these acts, it is important to seek legal advice from a juvenile defense attorney.