A new state regulation requiring local school districts to provide instruction for incarcerated children could help turn juvenile jails into literacy laboratories, some education officials say.
The Juvenile Justice Reform Act passed by the 1989 Legislature requires school districts in which a juvenile detention center is located to provide inmates with schooling.The rule grew from concern that children could potentially miss as many as 120 days of school during their odyssey through the juvenile criminal system, said Darrell Loosle, assistant superintendent with the Idaho Department of Education.
Many children eventually drop out rather than trying to make up for the overwhelming amount of work they missed, Loosle said.
The state board earlier this month approved an education plan that will affect five of the state's 116 school districts: Coeur d'Alene in Kootenai County, Jerome Joint in Jerome County, Boise Independent in Ada County, Fremont County Joint and McCall-Donnelly in Valley County.
The state's five regional juvenile detention centers are located within those school district boundaries.
Starting Jan. 15, the five districts will be required to provide at least four hours of basic skills instruction daily to the 70 or so youths housed at the centers. The children range in age from 10 to 17.
The school board has also recommended that districts coordinate lessons with each child's school and provide counseling, and lessons in self-concept, social adjustment, physical fitness, vocational-occupational skills and adult livings skills, said Loosle.
"I think it will be a big project that will be costly and frustrating," said Pat Pickens, special education director for the Coeur d'Alene School District. "It's encouraging that we're not going to let kids go without an education, but I don't know how we're going to do it."
Pickens will plan the education program for 10 to 15 juveniles being held each day at the Kootenai County Jail, which was built to house adults. He said one of the major logistics problems will be coordinating lessons for children arriving at different times from 12 school districts in a facility that has no classrooms.
The state will pay districts according to the number of children in each program, and will also pay with special education funds 80 percent of instructors' salaries. The five districts are also entitled to tuition payments from other districts for students they instruct from those districts.
Pickens said he isn't convinced the funding plan will cover all the district's costs.
Before he plans northern Idaho's jail education program, Pickens said he'll visit districts like Bob McIntyre's, where programs are already in place.
McIntyre administers the jail education program the Boise Independent School District runs at Ada County Juvenile Center. The Boise district has worked with juveniles in the center since 1975, well before the passage of the new law.
McIntyre said if the money in the state's funding plan materializes, it should be enough to cover the costs of each district's program.