By: Krystle Crossman
The state of Texas has a procedure when a student has too many unexcused absences during the year. They make them go to truancy court where they end up being criminalized for missing so much school. This policy has affected minority and poor students greatly and a call to action was placed to have the truancy procedures looked over. The Fort Bend Independent School District is the first in the state to do so.
After Texas Appleseed, a group that seeks justice reform, published a report on how Texas prosecuted twice as many truancy cases as any other state in the nation, Fort Bend said that they would review the process. They put their current truancy procedures on hold until it was investigated. Minorities are the ones who suffer the most with these policies. Over 53% of the truancy cases that were brought to court were minority students. This is a very high number, especially considering that minority students only made up just over 29% of the student population in the Fort Bend Independent School District. The superintendent, Charlie Dupre, sent a letter to all of the parents in the district. He stated that they would be reviewing their policies due to outcry from the public and concerns brought up by the communities that are part of the district.
Senator Rodney Ellis had written a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on the matter. He stated that the racial disparities that they were seeing in the punishments for truancy needed to be investigated. The Office for Civil Rights in the Department of Education is also reviewing the policies. Texas state law recognized truancy as a crime but still allows the school to decide how to process the cases of truant students. They usually end up sending the students through the criminal justice system which sets them up for the preschool to prison pipeline effect. They are charged with a misdemeanor and end up pleading guilty most of the time because they are not given access to legal counsel. They end up with a $500 fine and a misdemeanor on their record. There is currently a bill in the making that would force the schools to punish the students as opposed to sending them through the criminal justice system. This bill will be decided on in June.