Skip to comments.Skipping school can mean a day in court or washing school buses, fines or parenting classes
Posted on 07/05/2005 12:51:18 AM PDT by Cincinatus' Wife
Bill and Rebecca Hardin sat in a Cypresswood court recently, waiting to find out whether they would be fined as much as $500 each because their son was allegedly truant from school.
On the same day, a 17-year-old Spring High student was hauled off to the county jail for at least a day for failing to honor a contractual promise to attend school.
And some students who played hooky during the school year are spending days of summer vacation washing school buses under court order.
The youths and their parents have been landing before judges as part of an anti-truancy program run by the Harris County District Attorney's Office in four justice of the peace courts. The program relies on early intervention, tough love and scaring-families-straight techniques.
After a student has three unexcused absences, the district attorney's office sends a letter warning the child and parents that they will face criminal charges and fines up to $500 each if the child has three more unexcused absences.
During the past two school years, the district attorney's office has sent out more than 15,800 warning letters to parents and children in nine area school districts.
If the warning goes unheeded, another is sent notifying the student that he or she has been charged with truancy and the parents that they have been charged with contributing to non-attendance at school, both Class C misdemeanors.
School officials say anecdotal evidence and limited early statistics indicate that the program is working. Prosecutors can get the attention of kids and parents when school officials can't, said Juan Lumbreras, attendance specialist for the southeast region of the Houston Independent School District.
"The program's been real positive. It helps make students and parents aware," he said. "We get tired of repeating ourselves."
'Been very successful' The district attorney's office runs the program in JP courts in Pasadena, Clear Lake, Sagemont in southeast Houston and on Cypresswood in northwest Harris County.
School districts participating are Pasadena, Clear Creek, Waller, Tomball, Spring, Aldine and La Porte. HISD's southeast region, which includes Milby and Chavez high schools, and part of the Cy-Fair district also participate.
"It's a great program. The whole idea is to expedite the process and get the kids back in school," said County Judge Robert Eckels. "It's been very successful in changing the habits of kids heading down the path of truancy."
In the past, schools would send out letters or make calls to homes about a child's non-attendance. Typically, only after a student had accrued dozens of absences would a prosecutor become involved and bring a charge.
"You'd see a case in April for 45 absences in fall semester," said Bill Hawkins, chief of the district attorney's juvenile division. By then, he said, it might be too late for the student to salvage anything from the school year.
During the school year that just ended, the district attorney's office sent out 11,910 letters to parents whose children had three unexcused absences.
Hawkins said that only 20 percent of the students who received warning letters cut school three more times.
Parents of those who do face a shock.
Bill Hardin was stunned when he received a letter informing him that he had been charged.
"At first, I couldn't believe it," said Hardin after a hearing on the family's cases in June. "They said I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor. But I was sending him to school."
Hardin said his son earns good grades at Spring High, but had skipped school several times to go fishing.
Parents are responsible Some parents said it is unfair of judges to hold parents accountable for making sure wayward, disobedient children don't skip classes.
Ernest Townsel said his ex-wife, Vonda Hill, tries to make sure their daughter, 16, goes to Westfield High, and their daughter, whose truancy case has landed before Judge J. Kent Adams, assures them that she is attending.
Hill is a busy single mother who has to rely on what her daughter tells her, Townsel said in an interview, and the daughter isn't always truthful about her attendance.
He asked the judge to give his daughter the shock treatment of a day in jail, but the judge declined, instead fining Hill $200.
Court officials argue that however difficult, parents are responsible for their minor children. Even after truancy charges are filed, prosecutors work to avoid trials and criminal convictions.
When youths and parents arrive at court, prosecutors try to convince them to agree to a contract stipulating that the students will attend class for six months without any unexcused absences.
Prosecutors coordinate with social workers and counselors to address family, economic or substance abuse problems that may cause a student to play hooky. A condition that a student attend counseling often is added to a contract.
The contracts usually require students to perform community service. At the Cypresswood court, Adams' concept of community service is hardly undemanding: about 20 to 40 hours cleaning school buses.
Parents often are required to take parenting classes.
Sent to lockup By signing the contract, students admit that they were criminally truant and parents admit that they contributed to their child's non-attendance. But the charges are dismissed if the child and parents fulfill the contract's conditions.
Judges can be tough on those who do not comply with contracts. Students who continue to skip school are brought into court on contempt charges. Brought in a second time, some judges send them to lockups.
In February, a 17-year-old girl from Spring High was brought into court after missing school 26 times, Assistant District Attorney Michael Moore said. She signed a contract saying she would not miss school during the next six months, but skipped school 38 more times.
At a recent hearing in Cypresswood, Adams found her in contempt of court for failing to live up to the contract.
He fined her $505. When she said she didn't have the money, she was handcuffed and taken to adult jail as other youths looked on.
Her mother, in court on a contempt charge for failing to see that her daughter abided by the contract, also was fined $505.
"Isn't this about the most ridiculous thing you have heard we have to put your child in jail for failure to go to school?" Adams said.
Those under age 17 are sent to the county juvenile detention center the fate of 40 youths so far this year, Hawkins said.
When youths age 17 and 18 are found in contempt and cannot pay the $500 fines often imposed on them, they are sent to the county jails for adults for a day or two. No statistics were available on how many were sent to adult jails.
The district attorney's office has decided to be tough on truancy because it is a "gateway" activity that can lead to drug use, minor crimes and, ultimately, more serious crimes, Hawkins said.
Adams said he supports the program because youths who don't finish high school face diminished prospects.
Other areas are running similar programs. In Forth Worth, a municipal court has been set aside to hear only truancy cases.
The Fort Worth program, like the one in Harris County, emphasizes quick intervention and the potential imposition of fines.
The program has helped push average daily attendance in the Forth Worth Independent School District, which serves about 80,000 students, from 93.8 percent in 2002-2003 to 94.9 percent this school year, said Delena Doyle, the district's assistant director of student affairs.
Affects bottom line Such an increase means more money in a school district's coffers. State aid to schools is based in part on average daily attendance. Fort Worth's 1 percent increase in average daily attendance brought $4 million more to the district this year, Doyle said.
In Harris County, the ability of the district attorney's program to increase state aid hasn't gone unnoticed by some local school districts, said Moore, one of two prosecutors assigned to the program.
"The school districts talk a lot about the average daily attendance money," he said.
***...During the past two school years, the district attorney's office has sent out more than 15,800 warning letters to parents and children in nine area school districts. ...***
***..."The program's been real positive. It helps make students and parents aware," he said. "We get tired of repeating ourselves." ...***
I dare say, it's been "successful" keeping kids in public classrooms so as not to lose public money. Here we have another category to add to the education budget.
I must ask, if it's this hard keeping kids in public schools, perhaps the taxpayer should ask, "Why?"
"During the past two school years, the district attorney's office has sent out more than 15,800 warning letters to parents and children in nine area school districts"
And most of the parents receiving those letters couldn't care less
I got an idea--how about cutting taxes and saving it that way, and not increasing the amount of interference in people's lives? If their kids aren't attending or misbehave, out they go. But who gives the state the right to punish people for not being "good parents"? Who defines this?
I thought school was only mandatory thru the 9th grade.
Fines, jail time, parenting classes, community service, etc.....
There is something very wrong with this picture.
***....15,800 warning letters....***
Since multiple letters go out to individual families, I'd like to know how many people we're really talking about.
Notice no mention was made of grades or course material mastery, only attendance. I wonder how many were bored stiff?
Texas: Legal drop out age - 18
The one person I talked with was pretty agravated, partly because they were told they had to take the course, partly because of the expense, and partly because the one "teaching" parenting had never been married and had no children.
Yes. Follow the money - $700 BILLION per year from all sources. 50% to 50%+ of all states' budgets are fed into public education.
Notice no mention was made of grades or course material mastery, only attendance. I wonder how many were bored stiff?
And most of the parents receiving those letters couldn't care less.
You do have that right.
The last part would make me aggravated. On the other hand, if I would have ever skipped, my hide would have been tanned red and my mom and dad would have marched me right back to school. There wouldn't have to be any "parenting classes" for them.
Actually, through no child's behind left law, the attendance has to be 95% or your school can be labelled.
If only it were that easy:)
At the heart of the discrepancy may well be a reluctance on the part of educators to report campus crime fully. A survey by the National Association of School Resource Officers found that 89 percent of school police believe crime is already underreported. "It's the scarlet letter in education today," says Mr. Trump. "Administrators have said to me privately that they would rather be academically failing than be a dangerous school." ....*** http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/967058/posts
After a week of not getting into any trouble, the principal assumed I had been absent, called my folks (Mom) on Friday afternoon and told them he hoped I was feeling better.
I spent the whole weekend in trouble (seriously grounded) until the whole mess could be sorted out on Monday...After that, I resolved to maintain a higher profile...and returned to my miscreant ways.
I had students miss for vacation, to go to amusement parkds, to go see movies, to go to ballgames, to go visit cousins, to clean the house, etc. last year. I am very tolerant of family situations (though I can only recall twice during my school career of missing for something like that) and don't mind it at all as a teacher. Sometimes you do have to catch kids up when they've been gone a while. Even during testing week, I was informed by parents that 6 were leaving on vacation that Friday. I had to scramble to get them done by Thursday.
I did have another kid one year whose family took at 3 week vacation, then we had a 3-week break, then she came back for 3 days, then was gone for over 2 more weeks. It took the girl (who had been my best worker before) about another month to get back into the swing of things.
I've gotten more flexible over the years and this year, more than any other, kids were taken on vacations. Usually parents did let me know. I do realize that there are some difficult situations. One mom who is having a difficult pregnancy told me point blank that she jsut didn't feel like getting up and getting her kids ready for school. I understand, coming from a large family.
As far as skipping classes, my dad and mom expected me to have my butt in classes and to make sure that I learned something no matter how boring it was. I did have a few BORING teachers, but I WAS there.
Now that's funny. If I had been sent to the principal's office once ever, my parents would have meted out punishment that would have never made me get in trouble again.
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