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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

          Appeal from the Order Entered December 11, 2018 In the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County Domestic Relations at No(s): CP-46-DP-0000278-2018

          BEFORE: BENDER, P.J.E., GANTMAN, P.J.E., and COLINS [*] , J.

          OPINION

          GANTMAN, P.J.E.

         Appellant, 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.

         In its 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, 2018.
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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