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More school systems move toward school-based probation programs
Gainesville and Hall schools have had programs for years
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More than one-third of Georgia school systems now have some form of school-based probation programs, including Gainesville City and Hall County.

According to the Hall County government website, juvenile probation officers "are assigned to children who attend specific schools so that the officers work in a small geographic area."

Officers visit with youth offenders at a variety of places, including home and school.

"We've been doing this for years with both the city and the county," said Cliff Jolliff, chief juvenile court judge in Hall County.

He said Hall County Schools has a liaison with the juvenile justice system that provides courts the individual education plans, grades, attendance and behavior information for kids in the system who have violated the law. Gainesville City Schools' relationship is not as formal, as there is not a staff person as a liaison, but cooperates just as well.

"I'm very proud of our cooperation," Jolliff said. "As you might imagine, a lot of things come up with school, probation and kids that might have committed a delinquent offense at school."

The two programs are slightly different than others in Georgia, which work with the state Department of Juvenile Justice to have juvenile probation officers in schools on a more permanent basis.

The department instituted a pilot program during the 2008 to 2009 school year and now works in schools with students who are either on probation or under the department's 66 counties, according to Associated Press.

Schools involved in the pilot were selected on the number of youths in the system and whether the school was a willing partner. The school-based officers in the program are at the school every day, and nonschool-based officers still check in as well, said Emily Gest, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, in an email to The Times.

"The program has been effective as evidenced by decreases in discipline with the youth such as reductions in expulsions, suspensions and new charges," Gest said. "The major challenge is finding opportunities with new schools."

With Hall County's juvenile probation officers, the protocol is a minimum of five contacts per month, and one of those must be at school. About 250 students in middle and high school are served by seven officers each year in both school systems, Jolliff said.

"I think we were one of the first courts to do that, just because of the relationships with the superintendents and the staff," Jolliff said. "Back in the old days, juvenile court sentences or dispositions were not public, so we couldn't tell the schools what was going on."

That was frustrating, he said. Justice system leaders were worried that if schools knew a child was on probation, they might discipline her differently than a child who wasn't, he said.

"The juvenile courts system, including the probation officers, are considered by us to be part of our learning supports team," Gainesville City Schools Superintendent Merrianne Dyer said.

The learning supports team also includes counselors and social workers, depending on the student's situation. When a juvenile probation officer is in the school, he is checking grade, attendance and behavior record, and may also conference discreetly with the child.

"I think it's good that kids on probation know their peer might show up at school to see if they're actually there and actually behaving," Jolliff said.

Dyer said most of the issues in city schools are drug related. She said when the juvenile probation officers are at schools, they can use the counselor or school resource officer's rooms, instead of being assigned their own offices like some counties do.

Dyer said while she can't speak for parents, she hasn't heard anything negative about having the officers in schools.

"My view is, it's looked upon as a positive step, to get everyone on the same page with a child," Dyer said. "You can make real progress there."

 

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