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Prosecutor targets school safety

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

School bullies beware: The next fight you get in could get you more than a few days suspension, it could land you in front of a judge.

Harrison County Prosecuting Attorney John Scott is working with the Harrison County Board of Education to crack down on students who violate the school discipline policy and also those who have repeated attendance problems.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Scott outlined the details of his office's new program to be implemented this year, including assigning two assistant prosecutors to work solely on juvenile matters.

"This is for the students who don't conform to the laws of the state and who are repeat fighters," said Marcel Malfregeot, administrative assistant for middle schools.

"Our first duty is the safety and well being of the students, and if one child is in a fight and assaulted, it is one too many," Malfregeot said.

In addition to any action taken by the school, students who violate the Safe Schools Act of 1997 will be sent a letter from the prosecutor's office explaining the violation on their first offense; meet with the prosecuting attorney's school resource board on their second offense; and be issued a juvenile petition on their third offense.

Scott's plan also calls for police officers to be placed on the premises of county schools as a preventive measure to deter crime, underage drinking, drug abuse and assaults.

"Our goal is to show the police officer in another light than just adversarial," Scott said. "And the teachers will have a contact there if they have questions about juveniles."

The plan also addresses the problem of truancy.

The attendance program is aimed at elementary and middle schools in an effort to eliminate problems at an early age before they become habit, Scott said.

The prosecutor's office will issue a letter to parents whose children have been absent for more than 10 days. If the problem continues, the prosecutor's office will meet with the family and a school attendance review board and the family may be prosecuted.

Gore Middle Transitional School will implement the attendance policy as a test, beginning Jan. 24. If all goes well, it will be employed at the other schools in the county next year.

To pay for the new policies, Scott and the school board are combining resources to pursue state and federal grant monies.

The board is optimistic about this innovative plan, according to Superintendent Carl Friebel.

"We're trying something new and this is a real school reform effort," Friebel said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us to improve attendance and discipline in the schools."

The school board meets again in a special meeting Thursday at 9 a.m. at the board office in Clarksburg.

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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