Christian County Aims to Help Struggling Students with Diversion Court

A new program is looking to help students who are facing problems in school and life with an aim to keep them from situations that could have significant lifetime consequences.

The 38th Judicial Circuit, which covers Christian County, will start the Christian County Diversion Court. The court will identify students prior to referral to the Juvenile Office and put them into a program where they will be able to receive extra support to find a positive path in life.

The court will be supported by the Christian County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, the Juvenile Office, and Ozark School District.

Judge Laura Johnson (left) and Associate Judge Jessica Kruse

“Every school district has a number of students who struggle in school primarily because of poor attendance.  While schools can identify those students and encourage attendance, they have little or no ability to force attendance if the family does not cooperate,” Circuit Judge Laura Johnson said in a statement. “This program provides the ‘teeth,’ so to speak, to require a student and family to attend school and complete school assignments. The purpose of the program is to provide positive support for these families to encourage a change in behavior, but there are actions that may be taken by the Juvenile Office and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office if Diversion Court fails to correct the problem. It will help school districts solve the intractable problem of continuing truancy in some families.”

Ozark School District officials will refer students to the Diversion Court based on a multi-factor process including items like repeated tardiness or absences, difficulty keeping up in class, or significant disciplinary actions. The voluntary program will have four phases for both students and guardians.

“The support this program will provide to the family unit will bring real change,” Ozark School District Superintendent Chris Bauman said in a statement. “The power of this program to heal the family is unprecedented and we could not be more excited for this partnership.” 

The family will meet with Associate Circuit Judge Jessica Kruse to create and track both individual and family goals under the program. The program is modeled after the Jasper County Achievement Court.

“I enjoyed seeing the pride on the participants’ faces when they graduated from the program,” Judge Kruse said about Jasper County Achievement Court. “You could tell their entire family was able to experience a feeling of accomplishment and had a sense of hope for the future. I am excited to see what this program can bring to the students in Ozark.” 

The program will begin with five students with the program aimed at having a maximum 25 to 30 students at a time. Those involved say they hope to make the program available to school districts throughout Christian County.

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