Repeal Texas Truancy Laws Which Fine and Jail Students for Missing Class

Target: Executive Director of the Texas Judicial Council, David Slayton

Goal: Repeal harsh truancy sentences and implement therapeutic interventions aimed at keeping students in school

Students in Texas are referred to truancy court after missing school without excuse for ten or more days, or parts of days, within a six-month period of the same school year. Once there, they face fines starting at $195 and possible jail time if fines are not paid within the 30 day due date. Please sign this petition and urge the Texas Judicial Council to amend truancy laws to provide absent students with interventions rather than punishment to help solve whatever problems may be preventing full attendance.

Criminalizing truancy has collected millions of dollars in fines, but done little to restore a full classroom. Supporters of harsh sentencing say the truancy crackdown is critical to improving test scores and graduation rates, but there is also financial motivation for courts and schools. School budget cuts have highlighted how absentee children represent lost funding.

In some districts, schools get a portion of truancy fines levied by courts, thus providing an incentive for ticketing truant students. According to a study by the non-profit, Get Schooled, truancy cuts across all demographics. Those most affected by harsh enforcement are low-income families whose financial struggles can contribute to attendance problems. Students facing health problems or learning disabilities, thus requiring costly educational interventions, are easily punted off to the courts, and school districts successfully avoid extra costs.

While the financial motivation for schools is understandable in this economic climate, punishing students for something that may be out of their control does not provide a solution to getting the student educated. Joanna Heilbrunn, senior research and policy analyst at the National Center for School Engagement says, “There is always a reason a kid is not in school, and just fining the family doesn’t do anything. Most families are low income and the barriers stem from income issues.”

Issues get worse when students are unable to pay fines, often accumulating from multiple appearances in court, and are sentenced to incarceration. Once jailed, not only are students not attending school, but are now being exposed to activities and lifestyles that do not promote education fulfillment.

Educational and therapeutic interventions are necessary to addressing and combating the issue of truancy and getting children back in school. Please sign this petition in support of efforts to stop truancy by confronting barriers, rather than profit at the expense of children’s education.

PETITION LETTER:

Dear Mr. Slayton,

Criminalizing truancy in Texas has resulted in high fines and jail time, but has not decreased the truancy rates. A number of costly truancy courts have been established to continually see truant students and their families at an alarming rate. Despite the number of students being sent to truancy court, the problem is not being solved.

Research shows that truancy affects low-income students across all other diversities. Lack of finances often results in a child having to get a job, or multiple jobs, in addition to school. Other issues like learning disabilities and health complications also contribute to truancy. Instead of providing resources to combat and cope with issues, the courts add extra stress on families by demanding fines and threatening, or sentencing children to jail.

If Texas would really like to address the issue of truancy, you must implement therapeutic and educational interventions to children consistently missing class. Schools have access to community resources that could provide support for struggling families. Why not extend these resources to families facing barriers rather than punish them for societal impact?

According to Jessica Pennington, executive director of the nonprofit Truancy Intervention Project, “Since the economic downturn, the state budget is shrinking and schools are dealing with the same problems and a lot less resources. In the past two years, we’re seeing families we wouldn’t have seen before. Construction workers who haven’t worked in two years. Lots of middle-class families who lost their houses and moved to apartments. The stress level in the home is high, kids are acting out, and parents are struggling with sustenance issues. Kids missing school is not such a priority. They are dealing with keeping the lights on.”

Please provide resources and therapeutic interventions to truant students before demanding fines and sentencing children to jail. Employ social workers and other helping professions in order to provide resolution to conflict, rather than punishment without results.

Sincerely,

[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: jscheide via Yahoo

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17 Comments

  1. Shannon Shaw says:

    When a child misses/skips more than 3 or 4 days unexcused, there is no need for “intervention” – he/she just doesn’t care about school. IT’S TIME THESE CHILDREN (and yes, teenagers ARE children regardless of what they want us to think, otherwise they’d be “adults” when they turn 13) FOR SOME REAL-WORLD CONSEQUENCES for their actions. I know for a fact most judges around Texas are TOO LENENT, and so are the laws.
    THE ONE THING I DO DISAGREE WITH is PUNISHING THE PARENTS with FINES when they can’t afford it. ESPECIALLY when they are not at fault and do their best to get the kid to go to school. (And what about those who leave for work before the teens are supposed to leave for school & don’t get home until after the kids are home from school? How’s THAT fair!)
    E.g. we literally drag our teenager – a VERY GOOD, moral kid who doesn’t get into ANY trouble but just doesn’t like to go to school – out of bed and prop him up in a SHOWER in the morning to wake him up; he just goes back to bed and STILL won’t go to school. He simply ignores anyone who asks, tells, yells, whatever that he get out of bed & get dressed, and he simply ignores any “intervention” or “punishment” he is given at home. So how in the blue hell is this the PARENT’S fault? It’s times like these when the LAW NEEDS to step up and show the KIDS , NOT the parents who actually try, that this is unacceptable.

    • Sometiems it is the parents fault, they don’t push their kids to go, or they don’t provide them with a way to get to school. Some schools don’t have buses. Jail is for criminals, not a kid who didn’t make it to school. Summer school is an option. If a student is truant have them go to Summer school– send some police officers to the houses of the truant kids and make them go to school. There are other solutions to this. Jail time isn’t going to affect anything. Fines have payment plans, and if parents would make more of an effort (LIKE WALKING THEIR KIDS INTO THE BUILDING) then there wouldn’t be a problem.

      • Are you serious Gina? “Walking the kids into the building?” Really? Do you honestly think that with a full time job and full time school I have the time to do that? And their dad works 2 jobs to keep up with the bills! We don’t have the time to do something like that.

        Have you not noticed how the government and the local authorities limit parents in what they can do to punish the kids? We can’t do anything these days without the “law” threatening us.

        I have an acquaintance who ended up in court because her 16 year old kept leaving home for days. She didn’t know where he was, who he was with, and what he was doing. She asked for help several times, the judge told her that he is her responsibility and she is required to care for him. But she is not allowed to punish him since cutting his “privileges” will be considered abuse!! Yes, the stinking judge told her that and put it on paper with a seal!!! Now how do people expect us to raise a responsible generation of kids when some judge with childhood problems and resentment toward his parents makes a judgment like that! So the poor lady cannot do anything to the kid because the court will fine her or put her in jail.

        Excuse me for the anger and frustration, but I have to deal with truancy judgment and I’m not even home to send my kids off to school. Plus, the school changed the policy without anyone knowing about it. We found out with a summons to the court! And there were over 200 kids in there that I saw in a time span of 2 hours. Most of those kids, I would say 95% of them, were from a poor neighborhood.

        People, fight this!! This is another way for the local government to take your hard earned money!! And yes, it does affect those who have lower level incomes more.

        And this is America for you. The gap between the wealthy and the poor is growing by the minute.

        • being a parent is a full time job. and what if the childs parent or parents are not even in there life i am currently dealing with situation and i even gradguated but my cause for not going to school was a medical reason, i have clinical depression and i was in and out oftherapy now im trying to get my life on track and i owe 1,505 dollars just due to the fact i was recieving help. i begged my mother to tack me to court she would laugh in my face and tell me to deal with it my self, however i was 15 years old and the court wouldnt even talk to me with out my parent how ever i dindnt have any

    • Oh please, stop the crap. Texas is just looking for ways to maximize on a tax dollar. My son was out of school for 3 days, due to a family emergency we had to leave the country to make arrangements for my father who was sick. Upon returning I sent a letter to my daughter and sons’ school. Somehow my daughters school received the note but my sons school claim they never received the note. So here I am in the judicial system fighting this BS case. The courts say I must show them the note. Well damn, I didn’t know I had to make carbon copies of letters I sent to my children school. I think the teacher should be held responsible. The teacher dropped the ball in this case and when the attendance dept asked her to check again and she later found a letter I sent earlier that month that the school originally said I didn’t have a note for as well. This is an absolute waste of time. The court system wants parents to plead out and pay the fine. Ill take this to the highest court that is willing to hear it. This madness has got to stop.

  2. I can shed a different light on this subject seeing as I am one of the kids that are affected by this legislature. So far this semester I haven’t made it to a full week of school and its not because I’m blowing it off; I have health issues that make me pretty weak and it gets so bad that I can’t see very well I can barely walk or I just faint in the middle of the hallway on the concrete floor. It hasn’t always been this way for me once upon a time I was ranked #4 in my school working 25 hour weeks and still doing 20 hours a week in extracurricular activities. unfortunately my body just crapped out on me because of bad genetics. My family can’t afford the truancy fines seeing as we can’t even pay my hospital bills I was actually talking to my stepdad about that today when I told him my fever is so high there is no way the nurse would let me finish the school day. That leaves me with 2 choices. I can go to school when I’m sick and faint or get a fever but end up being stuck in the nurses office most of the day with a massive bump on my head exhausted for the rest of the week. Or I can stay home one day try and get some of my strength back and finish out the rest of the week in better condition. Perhaps the school district should stop assuming that every absentee is also a delinquent and give teens like me a chance. I don’t want to be fined, nor do I want to leave school in an ambulance :) Also just my opinion, parents shouldn’t have to throw their teens in the shower or drag them into the building that’s childish and demeaning for both parties its simply not the parents responsibility if you do that for them in highschool there is no way they will be prepared to have a job that is much less forgiving. Oh and in a response to Ginas comment I believe adulthood should be judged on a case by case basis there are some teens with the maturity of a 10 year old and on the other hand there are people like me that have already had to pull their weight and function in adult society for various reasons. I accept that being a trend I’m expected to act like an adult but be treated like a child but come on guys not every person is the same :)

    • I think in Texas, you maybe able to have some of your fines waived if you can verify your absences were medical related.

      • My son has been diagnosed with depression and insomnia. It’s a catch 22. The depression chases the insomnia and the insomnia chases the depression. We have spent thousands of dollars on hospital and doctor visits in order to get him the medical help. This is not his fault, his parents fault, or society’s fault. Mental illness is horrible and can be extremely taxing on the patient as well as all other family members. Despite doctor note after doctor note and meeting after meeting with the school principal, assistant principal, contacts to several school administration officials the school district (Mesquite Independent School District) continued to forward notice of delinquency to the courts time and time again. My son has been under the 504 program for many years, but that didn’t matter. School officials continue in their attempt (till this date) to submit claims of my son’s delinquency to the courts. When we first told the judge of our issue, and proof of medical condition (showed the judge our doctor’s letters), he simply responded, “Well, since you have proof of medical condition the Principal of the school should work with you on this”. We passed the judges comments onto the principal with no success – at least at first. We could not afford a lawyer and a court appointed lawyer WILL NOT be provided by the state. With the wonderful state law of Texas you’re stuck with paying the court fine. So . . . do parents like us continue to get the short end of the stick, not to mention the CRIMINAL record that will follow my son? We finally found a solution, late last year. Only one other student in the history of my son’s school has used the technique that we are now using to skirt the issue (but only in part)to rescind claims of delinquency being sent to the court. Mind you the assistant principal still tries to submit my son’s tardies and occasional absences to the court as “delinquency”.
        What about other students who have asthma, diabetes, hemophiliacs, and many other medical issues that causes the student to be tardy or absence. It’s not like my son wants to miss school. He is at the top 5 percent of his class. He enjoys school, but sometimes his body will not allow him to move at the same rate as you and I. Now, that said, I don’t want to hear about what medical solution you have as a cure for my son. We have been to loads of doctors seeking help. So please keep your petty – “oh all he has to do to circumvent insomnia and depression is blah, blah, blah”. We have heard it all. Until you have been in our shoes you have NO, repeat No idea what you’re talking about. I share my son’s story because there are others who are being wrongly judged and prosecuted by the Texas Legal System in the name of money, not the success of the student, but in the name of greed and money.
        While we have been able to skirt the last few attempts from the school administration to file delinquency charges on my son we continue to fight the battle on a yearly basis.

        • Dave, my heart goes out to you and your son. This is the kind of story that makes me so angry with today’s courts. The legal system has become all about making money and there is no compassion or care for our local communities. Not one bit. So sad. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I wish you all the best.

        • dave my name is jarrett and i have the same exact illness as well as i am a manic depressive, i even gradguated highschool and trying to move foward how ever it feels like i will never escape from the illness im trying so hard to combat infact they want to put me in jail for 30 days im 19 years old and working in insurance a month to me is a lot more than a brief time this means i will spend my 20th birthday incarcirated and i will have my license revoked i have come a long way since my time in highschool but with all this stress it causes me to become lost again. i wish the courts would be more understanding of people like your son and me. if we would have cancer we would be excused but since we have depression which is a severe illness we are still being treated as if we were criminals

  3. http://www.khou.com/news/local/Cleveland-honors-student-facing-truancy-charge-194068311.html

    My daughter and I are facing truancy charges. My child was actually sick. I just did not run her to the doctor when the only symptom she had was 101 F fever. Then a few days later, the fever returned and she threw up for a day. This went off and on for a few days.

    The Jan.1, 2013, she finally came down with Appendicitis, and her Appendices ruptured on the 2nd while she was in the hospital having surgery.

    Cleveland HS / ISD cannot look at this and see where the absences are related to the Appendicitis. It all boils down to the fact that a PARENT DOES NOT HAVE THE AUTHORITY to take their kids out of school for any reason!

    We need to reach our Legislators and get these laws changed.

    Call your Representatives with the changes as outlined below. We need to push. We can ONLY get something introduced until Friday, March 8, 2013.

    Changes to Texas Educational Code:

    Texas Educational, Chapter 25 – Administration, Transfers and Attendance

    Section 25.087 – Excused Absence

    Add 25.087 (1) (f.) Up to 2 consecutive days per incidence for illness not requiring a doctors visit with parental consent. Student must be with parent and/or at home or with caregiver. ref. sec. 26.010 (b.)

    Add 25.087 (1) (g.) Absence due to family emergency, with parental consent. ref. Sec. 26.010 (b.)

    Section 25.0915 – Truancy Prevention
    Add 25.0915 (1) (a.) Truancy prevention measures must include: In person or direct phone contact with parent(s) informing parents of the seriousness of Truancy and possible consequences if truancy continues.

    Add 25.0915 (1) (b.) Truancy prevention measures must include at least 1 meeting, with parent(s), school Administration (i.e. Superintendent or principal), Attendance Liaison and student, before offenses exceed referral requirement and before filing complaint in County, Justice and Municipal Court.

    Section 25.094- Failure to Attend School
    Change Sec. 25.094 (a)(3). fails to attend school on 10 or more days or parts of days within a six-month period in the same school year or on three or more days or parts of days within a four-week period.

    To: Sec. 25.094 (a)(3). fails to attend school with a combination of 10 unexcused, full and/or 1/2, days within a six month period on the same school year or 3 unexcused, full and/or 1/2, days in a four week period.

    Add Section 25.094(a)(4). A student under the age of 18 that arrives more than 5 minutes and less than 2 hours late to school without parental consent and parental notice to the school will be considered tardy and not absent. Any student who is Tardy of more than 15 minutes will serve detention and make up any work missed. Individual districts and schools may determine detention duration.

    Add Section 25.094 (a)(5). For calculating Truancy and or failure to attend, any student receiving 5 or more tardys will be credited with 1 unexcused day of absence per every 5 tardys. After 5 tardys, parents must be notified in person on the phone or by mail and schools must keep a record of contact in student file.

    Section 26.010 – Exemption from Instruction.
    Change 26.010 (b) to: 26.010 (d). This section does not exempt a child from satisfying grade level or graduation requirements in a manner acceptable to the school district and the agency.

    Add 26.010 (b) A parent is entitled to remove parents child, as an excused absence, from class and instruction temporarily for:
    (b)(1). Illness of 2 days or less.
    (b)(2). Family Emergencies arising from uncontrollable circumstances.
    (b)(3). Parent or Family Hardship of not more than 2 days, absence may exceed 2 days with signed, mutual consent of parent and school Administration of Vice Principal or higher.
    (b)(4). Family vacation and/or travel with prior written notice to school Administration (i.e. Superintendent , Principal or Vice Principal). Student may be required to make up work and time missed under section 26.010(b)(4).

    Add 26.010 (c). Parent must give written notice within 3 days after absence to be excused and not considered as part of truancy for section 26.010(b. 1-3). Schools must notify parent, if parent calls to excuse child, that a written notice is required.

    Change all sections in Texas Family Code and Texas Education Code that reference Attendance and Truancy:

    From: “if the student is absent from school on 10 or more days or parts of days within a six-month period in the same school year or on three or more days or parts of days within a four-week period.”

    Change to: “if the student fails to attend school with a combination of 10 unexcused, full and/or 1/2, days within a six month period on the same school year or 3 unexcused, full and/or 1/2, days in a four week period.”

  4. The laws need to target the kids and parents who are the EXTREME cases.

    That is what the tickets and Misdemeanor charges should be for.

    If the Official(s) at the schools were doing home checkups, like they are suppose to be doing, there would be NO confusion over which children are playing “hooky” without Parental knowledge.

  5. Charles Schram says:

    The law is like using a chainsaw to do brain surgery. My son had an unfortunate run of luck with an illness followed by injury and a death in the family. Despite the fact that all of these illnesses were considered excused, the school district insisted on pressing truancy charges. We entered our son in an alternative education program where he has just received his high school diploma. However, the school district will not drop charges, so we’ll be in court with a student who graduated AHEAD of the rest of his class. Credit this to the stupid bounty hunter system in Texas where districts are funded based on daily attendance.

  6. I am facing charges on the fact my 16 yr old daughter doesn’t want to go to school. I have called the school many times voicing my concern and letting them know she is being rebellious and I don’t know what else to do to get her butt to school. I work twelve hours shifts and I have to be at work before she has to be at school and I don’t get off work til way later after she gets out of school. I am a single mom and the school tells me maybe I need to quit my job to make sure she gets to school. im like wow really? what bullshit is that. I ve tried talking to her so many times about getting an education and how important it is. I cannot afford the fines ive been told about. hell I have half my check twice a month going to health insurance on top of trying to keep a roof over our heads.

  7. I was marked truant at the beginning of the school year, and I always forgot to get my tutoring (counted as community service) papers signed. Which was my fault…but then they charged me $410 for failing to comply and gave me less than two days to pay $260 of it and twn days to pay off the last $150. Bullshit, how am I supposed to come up with $260 in two days? It doesn’t even give me time to collect my next paycheck to pay for it.

  8. dominic ahrvide says:

    im 15 and am late at the most once a day i have adhd stress and anger problems and now have to get a job which is hard for a child with a poor education and emo/punk lifestyle to pay a 700$ fine stress has me in panic and shaking with anger i want to whoop some ass and make them realize there are families out there like mine who cant afford this i have to get foodstamps and free lunch as it is this is bullshit and rediculous havint had these problems since i switched to castleberry

  9. My grandson was forced to moved to the San Antonio area over Christmas break after living in the country with me for years. He’s an outdoor, hunting, fishing, awesome guy of 16, great personality, and very easy-going. Since moving to Jourdanton he has developed anger issues and depression that has resulted in mutliple late-to-school days and sick days (now on anger management medication!!!). My daughter works early hours that keeps her from being home when he needs to get up, but she also has shift days of getting home at 2 pm. She’s basically exhausted and has health issues. The boy has been depressed over having to move and doesn’t make changes easily. Just when he thought he’d convinced his mother to let him move back with me, the school has filed truancy. This only furthers his hopelessness of coming back to my home and all his school friends. When he was with me I worked with him on homework, tests, etc. The bus picked him up in my yard. Never had any issues like this before he moved. I am so frustrated with the disregard for my grandson’s needs! Am desperate to find a way to get him back so he can graduate with his friends next year! Don’t know where to turn. Too much government interference. My grandson is just a name to them. He’s a great kid and doesn’t deserve what he’s been dealt! The law needs to change so that kids are the concern and not the financial benefit to the school. I’m to the point I’d rather homeschool to get out of the system.

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