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.
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.
[Your Name Here]
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