Texas is one of two states that sends kids who miss class to adult courts that could fine them or even send them to jail.
But three advocacy groups have filed a complaint with the Justice Department to try to put a stop to the “cruel and unusual” punishment in several Texas school districts, The Dallas Morning News reports.
The purpose of the so-called truancy courts in Wyoming and Texas is ostensibly to keep kids in class, but the advocates say it’s ridiculous to criminalise truancy.
“You have the adults pushing kids into this court system that could ultimately lead to them being locked up for very, very minor behaviour,” Michael Harris, a senior lawyer at the National centre for Youth Law, told The New York Times.
Texas law currently requires students to report to truancy court when they miss 10 or more days without an excuse. The rules come from a 2001 law that sent “Failure to Attend School” cases to adult courts because they were already handling many other Class C misdemeanours, the Dallas Morning News has reported.
Ashley Brown, 16, said she had to go to court after her school recorded a suspension as unexcused absences, The Associated Press reported. She said she was sorry.
“But that didn’t help me in court,” she told the AP. “They treated me like a stone-cold criminal.”
Advocates say The Lone Star State has applied its truancy policy in an unfair way that penalizes students who have disabilities, don’t speak English well, or are pregnant. There’s also the issue of fines.
Last year Texas prosecuted more than double the number of truancy cases in all other states combined —113,000 — collecting $2.9 million in fines, the AP reported.. That sum covers about half of the courts operating costs. And if students don’t pay, they face trial, more court fees, and even jail time.
“There is this kind of perverse incentive to keep fines high,” deputy director of advocacy group Texas Appleseed Deborah Fowler told the AP.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.