Students who miss school with unexcused absences are no longer committing a crime, according to a new Texas law.
“Nothing changes for the police,” school resource officer Corporal Trzeciak said. “As far as the new laws are concerned, I believe the fines and probation consequences have been removed. Although it was not a “crime,” there was still the chance a student/parents would suffer criminal type penalties from the truancy court for skipping school.”
The law took effect on September 1st.
“As I understand it, the Texas legislature decided it wanted to remove the criminal type penalties in order to spare parents and kids the hardship of having to face the penalties and consequences that existed under the old laws,” Trzeicak said. “The criminality is gone and it’s more of a civil issue now.”
Students can no longer face jail time for skipping school, or unexcused absences. The district can still send students who have 10 or more unexcused absences over a six month period to court, but it will go to civil court. For years, Texas was one of the few states that made truancy a criminal offense.
“Overall, not much has been changed within LISD. The systems we have in place align with the law requirements,” assistant principal Cynthia Bode said. “As a district, we communicate with parents through email, phone calls, and letters when their student has begun to accrue 3 unexcused absences. The assistant principals meet with the student and parent to address the unexcused absences and if the truancy continues, the referral is made to the Attendance/Dropout Prevention Specialist.”
Under the old law, students 17 and older could face jail time for truancy. If a student had three unexcused absences in three weeks, they could be sent to truancy court. Instead, administrators will notify parents of their student’s absences and warn them of consequences, which could be a fine if the student continues to have absences or a criminal complaint could be filed against the parents.
In addition, a meeting between the administrator and parents will be required, and the student must enroll in a truancy prevention program.
When students are in school in their classes they learn. When they are not they do not learn.”
— Cynthia Bode
“The campus and district work diligently to remind students and parents of the importance of being in school,” Bode said. “When students are in school in their classes, they learn. When they are not, they do not learn. It is important for our students to attend class and have these best practices in place as they prepare for college and beyond.”
Certain circumstances, such as being homeless or having a chronic illness, can change how the student’s situation is handled. If the student’s absences do not improve after being in truancy prevention programs, the school can send the student to truancy court where they can face a $100 fine. Criminal charges can be filed against the parent if there is proof that their negligence lead to the student’s absences, and the fine can be up to $500.
“The drop-out prevention specialist, Ms. Alvarado, works with students who are continuing to be absent after the assistant principal has attempted to resolve the problems,” Bode said. “Ms. Alvarado conducts a meeting with the parent, student, and school staff to address the truancy issues and attempts to remove the barriers associated with the truant behavior.”
Photo Credit: Dylan Hanna