Since 2001, Texas students who fail to attend school have been tried in criminal courts. Some advocates are trying to keep truant students and their parents out of court.
According advocacy group Texas Appleseed, there were 120,000 truancy cases in Texas in 2012. Mary Schmid Mergler is a Staff Attorney for Texas Appleseed, she says that when the system sends a student to court, they’re not addressing the real problem
"Texas has adopted a purely punitive approach that relies almost exclusively on court-based intervention and the JP and municipal courts are simply not designed or equipped to connect truant students with the resources that will make it more likely for them to return to attending school," Mergler said.
Texas minors have been required to attend school since 1916, but until 1995 truancy cases were handled in family or juvenile courts. Now students and parents of students who skip school usually have to go to a hearing in a justice of the peace court. They can be fined $500 for each day a student misses and if they don’t show up, they can be held in contempt and sent to jail.
James Henry is a juvenile case manger for Midland County. He says even despite what some advocates and lawmakers say, truancy is a gateway to worse crimes.
"Truancy is a crime, it is a gateway crime," Henry said. "When kids are out there skipping school, they’re out there breaking into houses, they’re out there breaking into cars, they’re having sex, they’re doing drugs, and they’re involving themselves in behaviors that would possibly link them to graduate up into the system."
In 2013, Texas lawmaker passed a bill that would have decriminalized truancy, but it was vetoed by Governor Rick Perry.