Texas is one of only two states (the other is Wyoming) that employ the criminal justice system to punish truancy. The Texas Education Code — the body of law that regulates the activity of all educational institutions in the state — empowers school districts to file a criminal complaint against a child as young as 10 who has missed three days of school. After 10 missed days within a six-month period, however, the district’s discretion is removed and it is required to file against the child.
This is known as “Failure to Attend School,” or FTAS, a Class C misdemeanor that can carry up to $500 in fines and leave an indelible mark on the child’s criminal record. These fines are levied all too often on low-income families who don’t have the savings to pay them. If a child or parent is unable to pay the $500, or if the child misses one more day after adjudication, he or she can face jail time for the violation of a valid court order. In addition to the burden this places on families, the criminalization of truancy is a drain on limited court resources.
Adding to the frustration and confusion, the Texas Family Code already has a provision dealing with truancy. This is the Conduct Indicating a Need of Supervision section, which directly mirrors the language in the Education Code. However, this statute prosecutes students only through the juvenile court, eliminating the concern that this will lead to an adult record.
Further, FTAS misdemeanors saddle children with a criminal record that can keep them from future civil or military service. The sealing or expunction of these minor offenses stand to cost hundreds of dollars more in court costs and legal fees for individuals who, usually, are among those least able to afford it.
The Texas Legislature should move quickly to remove the criminalization of skipping school from the Education Code and allow school districts to find a truancy reduction method that works best for them.
Dallas and Fort Bend counties each have established a “truancy court,” a specialized docket that processes only kids who skip school. While the numbers seem to show the courts’ efficacy in reducing dropouts, credit belongs more to the specialized retention programs that judges are ordering truants to attend. The current process that forces children into these programs serves only to saddle these youngsters with a criminal record for minor misbehavior.
Monday, October 27, 2014
TPPF, TX Appleseed: Texas should decriminalize truancy
Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Deborah Fowler from Texas Appleseed had an op ed in the Dallas News this week (Oct. 23) making the case for decriminalizing truancy. Here's a notable excerpt: