CHARLESTON -- Kanawha Circuit Court Judge Tod J. Kaufman says West Virginia needs to increase the mandatory school attendance age.
Kaufman spoke Feb. 9 at the statewide mid-winter convention of the West Virginia Association for Justice at the Embassy Suites in Charleston. The WVAJ is comprised of hundreds of attorneys, legal assistants, law students, law clerks and law professors from throughout West Virginia.
"As you know, many West Virginia kids don't go to school," Kaufman said. "They drop out. In my opinion, we would benefit from our raising the mandatory attendance age to 18, just as the President proposed that every state do, in his State of the Union address.
"Many of our children will never make it in school. Truancy is the bright red flag that lets us all know that we have core problems and issues that cannot be swept under the rug, can not be candy coated and must be dealt with firmly and quickly by all concerned. A child not in school is as harmful as standing still on the treadmill of a society that is going full speed.
"Creative, alternative, vocational and non-traditional approaches, may be the way to go for many who cannot or do not go to school."
Kaufman said more and more truancy cases wind up in court.
"They have been my 'impact' cases of late in my career," he said. "When I started as a judge, 'impact' meant cases that affected the whole of society by their precedent.
"Now, so many truancy cases by their very definition have perhaps the largest overall impact on society, to use 'impact' in a different way. When parents and families fail, the Court, the attorneys and all of the case workers involved are the only safety net the juveniles have for basic needs in life, starting with education."
Kaufman conclused by quoting author William Butler Yeats.
"Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire," he said.
Kaufman has been a Circuit Judge in Kanawha County, West Virginia's busiest trial court, for 22 years.