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In re J.L.
Superior Court of Pennsylvania
July 23, 2019
IN THE INTEREST OF: J.L., A MINOR APPEAL OF: J.L., A MINOR
from the Order Entered December 11, 2018 In the Court of
Common Pleas of Montgomery County Domestic Relations at
BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., GANTMAN, P.J.E., and COLINS [*] , J.
J.L. (born June 2002), appeals from the order entered in the
Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, which adjudicated
him dependent and temporarily placed J.L. in a youth
residential facility, due to his habitual truancy. We affirm.
opinion, the trial court accurately set forth the relevant
facts and procedural history of this case as follows:
Turning to the facts of record, J.L. has a long history of
truancy, with attendance issues beginning three years ago,
when he was in the seventh grade. Now, in the 2018-2019
academic year, he is sixteen years old but is only in the
ninth grade, and is currently enrolled in that grade for the
second year in a row. In three years, J.L. lost one and
one-half years of education due to his truancy while the
school district and [the Montgomery County Office of Children
and Youth ("OCY")] attempted to treat it outside of
dependency proceedings. This was the single most important
fact regarding the decision facing the undersigned on
December 11th: whether to briefly remove J.L. from
his home while developing a diagnosis and treatment for his
truancy, or continue with the less-restrictive options that
had proved unsuccessful for three years.
The facts of record begin with J.L.'s 2017-2018 academic
year, when his school notified OCY that he was habitually
truant. He had accumulated twenty-two unexcused absences by
April of 2018. The OCY case worker did not file a dependency
petition at that time, but instead exercised her judgment as
to the "least restrictive option"…and chose
to employ "alternative services"…of the
Academy Truancy Diversion Program. Even with the deployment
of that alternative service in April of 2018, J.L.
accumulated a total of 44 unexcused absences for the
2017-2018 academic year.
J.L's 2018-2019 academic year began on September 4, 2018,
yet by the reckoning of the undersigned he accumulated 31
unexcused absences by the end of October. Nonetheless, after
J.L.'s school notified OCY about his ongoing truancy in
October 2018, the OCY case worker again chose to divert his
case to the Academy Truancy Diversion [Program]. The OCY case
worker did not formally open a case until November 5, 2018,
after the Academy case worker reported that J.L. would not
respond, except to lock his bedroom door and refuse to open
it, when the case worker would arrive at his home in the
morning to personally support him getting to school.
On November 14, 2018, the OCY case worker met with J.L. and
his parents at their home. The case worker gave J.L. goals
that she expected him to meet, and although he appeared
cooperative, he failed to explain why he refused to attend
school. The school attendance record shows that J.L. was
absent every day from November 14th through
November 28th, …when the OCY case worker
and a Multi-Systemic Therapist met with J.L. and his parents
at his home[.] At that time, the case worker notified J.L.
and his parents that she had filed a dependency petition and
that a hearing on the petition would be held on December
11th. Once again, J.L. agreed to attend school.
Once again, however, he was unable to stand by his intention,
even knowing that he would be appearing [in] court shortly.
Exhibit OCY-2 shows an unbroken record of 48 unexcused
absences from November 29th through December 5,
On December 6, 2018, the OCY case worker again met with J.L.
and his parents in their home to discuss his ongoing truancy,
and he proffered the excuse that he overslept and missed the
school bus because he is tired in the morning. His case
worker encouraged him to attend school in the few days
remaining before the hearing on the dependency petition, but
he could not bring himself [to] attend a single day, even as
his date in court loomed less than a week away.
The undersigned received all of the foregoing facts at the
hearing on December 11, 2018 and found them to be clear and
convincing. Years of truancy indicated that J.L.'s
parents did not know what to do to support his attendance at
school. Their palpable anxiety, as witnessed by the
undersigned, evidenced by their furrowed brows, reinforced
that conclusion. J.L. needed immediate intervention because
of the amount of schooling he had lost, and intervention by
placement was preferable because none of the interventions in
the home had worked. J.L.'s parents agreed with
placement. Although the need for removal from home was
obvious to the undersigned and J.L.'s parents, the
undersigned believed a short-term program to alleviate
J.L.'s well-entrenched truancy would be sufficient. The
recommended Multi-Systemic Therapy, which had just begun,
…could be continued while he was in placement[.] The
undersigned found the foregoing facts to be clear and
convincing evidence that reasonable efforts were made to
prevent the need for removing J.L. from his home, and that it
would be contrary to J.L.'s welfare to permit him to
remain at home.
On December 19, 2018, J.L.'s lawyer filed a motion for
reconsideration of the order of December 11th.
While that motion was pending, the staff at Bethany
Children's Home gave J.L. a furlough from December
24th through 26th, and J.L. celebrated
Christmas at home with his family. On January 4, 2019, the
undersigned filed an order scheduling a hearing on the motion
for reconsideration simultaneously with the dispositional
hearing on January 8th. At the hearing, OCY,
J.L.'s parents and J.L. agreed to an order returning him
to the custody of his parents. The undersigned filed a
written order to that effect at the conclusion of the
hearing. Prior to that, J.L. spoke in court, and said,
"I just want to say, Your Honor, that I definitely
learned my lesson from going to Bethany for the thirty days,
and I will make an effort going to school and doing what I
need to do to make it right."
In view of the agreed order returning J.L. home, the
undersigned asked counsel for J.L. if she would withdraw her
motion for reconsideration of the order of December
11th. She responded, "It's our position
that it's moot." Notwithstanding that she understood
her motion for reconsideration to be moot, she stated that
she would take the unusual step of filing an appeal from the
December 11thorder. [On January 10, 2019, ]
counsel for J.L. filed the notice of ...
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