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Bibb Leaders Sign Juvenile Court Agreement

Bibb leaders sign Juvenile Court agreement
Law enforcement officials, Juvenile Court judges and others signed a memorandum of understanding at the Bibb County Board of Education offices Friday, moving closer to an agreement that aims to send fewer Bibb County students to court who commit non-felony offenses at school.
“We hope (it) will bring a great outcome, not only for the youth who will come through this protocol, but for the school system in general and in the Bibb County community as well,” said attorney Veronica McClendon with the Georgia Legal Services Program, which helped put the agreement together.
In recent years, more students have been sent to Juvenile Court for relatively minor offenses, instead of being disciplined in schools, McClendon said. Students who end up in Juvenile Court are then more likely to end up in the justice system as adults, too, McClendon said.“(Sending students to court) can end up doing more harm than good,” she said. “Just encountering the Juvenile Court has a negative impact on the future.
”Under the agreement signed Friday, students who commit minor infractions, such as schoolyard fights, could be sent to a School Conflict Diversion Committee, made up of representatives from organizations that are part of the agreement -- Juvenile Court of Bibb County, the Bibb County school system, the Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney, Macon Police Department, Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, Bibb County Department of Family and Children Services, Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, Family Counseling Center of Central Georgia and River Edge Behavioral Health Center.
The committee will meet once a week to review cases and determine appropriate interventions for issues such as substance abuse, mental health and gang prevention. They will also meet once a quarter to evaluate their progress with the program. Repeat offenses or noncompliance with the committee’s recommendations could lead to a referral to DFACS or Juvenile Court.
School Superintendent Romain Dallemand said the agreement does not mean the system is tolerating bad behavior in schools, and students will face consequences for their actions. At the same time, he said, students shouldn’t have to have minor infractions follow them around for the rest of their lives. “Bibb County schools have been dealing with behavior challenges for many years, and the district has examined these concerns extensively,” Dallemand said. “I am extremely pleased to say that this (memorandum of understanding) is a first great step.”
Dallemand plans to sign the document after he presents it to the school board at its June monthly meeting. Representatives from the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice and River Edge Behavioral Health Center were not present at Friday’s event and also will sign the document later. While local organizations are looking at alternatives to handling minor offenses, campus incidents involving drugs and weapons are still subject to state laws that mandate they be reported to local law enforcement and the district attorney’s office. District Attorney Greg Winters said he was initially skeptical of the agreement, and he talked to Juvenile Court judges and studied the agreement and applicable state laws before signing on. “This isn’t giving a blank check to students at our school,” he said. “I wouldn’t allow that, and I wouldn’t be a part of that. ” The agreement also specifically excludes student attacks against teachers, a provision Winters said he wanted addressed in the document.
The agreement is modeled after a similar program Clayton County implemented in 2004.Since then, there have been 70 percent fewer weapons reported on campus, an 87 percent decrease in fights and a 20 percent increase in the graduation rate, according to the Advancement Project, a school civil rights organization. The participating organizations will continue to work together in the coming months to sort out details of the agreement, McClendon said. “This is a work in progress. It’s not final,” she said. “We know a lot of details need to be worked out, but the framework remains the same.”
To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 744-4331.
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