Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Texas Investigator found 30+ Bruises, Cuts on Dead Boy Adopted from Russia, CNN

A 3-year-old adopted boy — whose death in West Texas has drawn stern criticism from Russia — had more than 30 bruises, cuts and other marks on his body soon after he was pronounced dead, according to a report from a Texas medical examiner obtained by CNN.

Along with his 2-year-old brother, Max Shatto arrived in the United States with his adoptive parents in November 2011. Just more than two months later, his adoptive mother told authorities that she found him unresponsive in the family’s Gardendale, Texas, backyard. He was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at a nearby hospital.

Soon after Max’s death on January 21, Russia’s top child rights advocate tweeted that the boy had been “killed” or “murdered.” Children’s Rights Commissioner Pavel Astakhov later acknowledged he might have spoken too soon — though he has remained highly critical of the U.S. handling of the case.

A High School where the Students are the Teachers, Time

If high school students took charge of their education with limited supervision, would they learn? A Massachusetts school is finding out.

“Some kids say, I hate science or I hate math, but what they are really saying is: I hate science class or I hate math class,” says high school senior Matt Whalan.

Whalan is writing a novel. That’s a notable feat for a 17-year-old, and he has a semester to finish it. Whalan is enrolled in the Monument Mountain Regional High School’s Independent Project, an alternative program described as a “school within a school,” founded and run by students. The semester-long program is in its third year, and Whalan has completed the program three times during his high school career and says it has saved his grades.

Torrington Holding Public Meeting on Cyberbullying,

The arrests of three high school students on sexual assault charges and the online taunting of an accuser have prompted Torrington officials to organize a community meeting on cyberbullying, statutory rape and social media.

Board of Education Chairman Kenneth Traub said Monday that school officials, local police and religious leaders are organizing a community forum they expect to hold in the first two weeks of April. He said additional public meetings are possible.

“I imagine that the public input section of it would be overwhelming,” Traub told the Register Citizen newspaper of Torrington. “We are working with the city and the police department to put on a forum to discuss the issues at hand.”

Thursday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Indiana Can’t Kick Sex Offenders off Social Media, Court Says, CNN

Indiana can’t kick all registered sex offenders off instant messaging services, chat rooms or social networking sites like Facebook, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The state passed a law in 2008 that was aimed at keeping predators from trolling the Internet for new victims. But that law “broadly prohibits substantial protected speech rather than specifically targeting the evil of improper communications to minors,” a three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals concluded.

State courts can impose limits on social media as a condition of a sex offender’s probation or parole, but a “blanket ban” on Internet use violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of free expression, the judges found.

A district judge in Indianapolis had upheld the law in June, but federal courts in at least two other states — Nebraska and Louisiana — struck down similar state laws in 2012.

There’s More to Baltimore than Prisons, The Baltimore Sun

I once sat with a group of inner-city Baltimore kids, mostly 12-year-olds, who were being asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Police officer. Prison guard. Judge.

Those were the boys at least. The girls mostly seemed to aspire to cosmetology, which was depressing in its own way.

There’s nothing wrong, of course, with being a cop or corrections officer or a judge. But the fact that no other jobs came to mind reflected how very narrow was their world: You were either the guy getting arrested, tried and jailed, or the guy doing the arresting, trying and jailing.

CASA Volunteers Read to Help Kids, The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kayla Hickman of Amelia said she is looking forward to “helping kids and families” as a court-appointed special advocate for children in the CASA for Clermont Kids program.

Hickman and five other volunteers who completed 40 hours of special training were sworn in Jan. 17.

Amada List, executive director of CASA, said the volunteers completed the training to prepare them to be advocates in court for abused, neglected and dependent children.

“By using well-trained volunteers, juvenile court saves the cost of appointing attorneys to serve as guardians for the children,” List said.

In 2012, CASA for Clermont Kids served 222 children, List said.

New Mexico Teen Accused of Gunning Down Family ‘Lost Sense of Conscience”, CNN

The chilling acts the 15-year-old boy is accused of defy imagination:

Pumping his mother, brother and two younger sisters with bullets.

Gunning down his dad when he returned home.

Texting a picture of his lifeless mother to his 12-year-old girlfriend.

Plotting to kill strangers outside a supermarket.

But, family members say, Nehemiah Griego is no monster. They can’t fathom what could have gone so terribly wrong.

“Whether it was a mental breakdown or some deeper undiagnosed psychological issue, we can’t be sure yet,” his uncle, former New Mexico state Sen. Eric Griego, said.

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juvenile Drug Court Re-instituted in W. Ky.,

Officials in western Kentucky are working together to restart a juvenile drug court.

Daviess County Attorney Claud Porter told the Messenger-Inquirer that the city of Owensboro and the county have each agreed to put up $88,000 annually to fund the program, which was discontinued by the state due to budget cuts.

Officials say the goal of the program is to intervene with children before they develop serious substance abuse issues.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Al Mattingly Jr. says local officials will fund the drug court for three years, but hope that the state Administrative Office of the Courts will be able to take over funding after that.

Panel Agrees on Juvenile Reform Recommendations, The Augusta Chronicle

The way children and teens who break the law are handled in Georgia could change under recommendations a special council agreed to last week.

The Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform, a 21-member panel that radically overhauled adult sentencing in the last legislative session, is proposing equally dramatic changes in juvenile justice for lawmakers to consider when they convene in January.

The main difference is that troublemaking minors will be sentenced based not on what they did, but on the chances they could break the law again.

It’s an approach Ohio pioneered and that Texas instituted five years ago.

D.C.’s Truancy Crisis? Try Business as Usual, The Washington Post

Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said this month that there is a “truancy crisis” in D.C. Public Schools, as if the problem were new and suddenly needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately, this crisis has been with us for many years, dating back to the Anthony Williams administration. At Superior Court, we have seen the tragic results of truant behavior — crime, delinquency, substance abuse and recidivism — for just as long. No, there is nothing new about this problem. If there is a true desire to conquer it, let’s not act as though it just appeared.

Several years ago, while Adrian Fenty was mayor and after I became chief judge of D.C. Superior Court, I met with Henderson’s predecessor, Michelle Rhee, and others to offer to restart a truancy diversion program involving judges, community groups, principals, school attendance counselors and mental health professionals.

Small Town Could Offer Anti-Truancy Model for Chicago, Chicago Tribune

While the Chicago Public Schools lack a sustained and focused effort to combat elementary-level truancy, school districts across the state are finding ways to fight the problem and having success, one child at a time.

Despite budget cuts and a sagging economy, cash-strapped school districts use truancy officers, court interventions and civic outreach campaigns to bring truant kids back to school, and educators say the same methods could work in Chicago.

Local authorities go to these lengths because absences from school in the earliest grades can have a devastating effect on children, their families and the community, as well as draining millions of dollars from school districts whose state and federal funding is linked to attendance rates.

In Galesburg, near the Iowa border, some transplanted Chicago residents are surprised to see school officials hold them accountable for their children’s absenteeism. Truancy officers make home visits to bring in missing kids and, in the toughest cases, hold hearings and issue fines.