Skipping School May Not Longer Be An Offense for Students in Texas

In Texas skipping school can be a criminal offense for students. However, that may change if a bill approved this month by the Senate makes it onto the statute books.

The Star-Telegram reported on how skipping school in Texas would no longer be a crime for students if a bill which was approved 26-5 by the Texas Senate, progresses through the legislature.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said his bill would still make it tough for students who do not attend school but would decriminalize unauthorized absences.

Texas uses the criminal law more readily than other US states for truancy. At present, students who have three unexcused absences in four weeks, or 10 unexcused absences in six months, can face fines up to $500. “Over 115,000 Class C misdemeanor cases were filed against Texas students in adult criminal courts in 2013 — more than twice as many as any other state,” reported the Star-Telegram.

Whitmire has argued using the criminal law can cause further problems for kids who skip school.

“Don’t make a 14-year-old a criminal because he or she can’t get to school because of a hardship,” Whitmire told his colleagues. “This is tough, very serious. … But let’s just quit criminalizing young people,” he said.

His bill would instead make truancy a misdemeanor punishable by graduated fines for parents starting at $100.

However, opponents include the Fort Worth school district. They claim that the law as it stands, gives them the tough tools they need to crack down on truancy, a significant problem in Texas schools for years. Other opponents include Plano, McKinney and Denton school districts.

Whitmire is supported by the Texas Association of Business and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht.

Although the bill made it through the Senate, opponents are seeking to halt its progress in the House. The Legislature approved a similar bill in 2013, but it failed when Gov. Rick Perry refused to sign it.

Concerns have been raised about how the current truancy law works. Last month, the U.S. Justice Department initiated an investigation into Dallas County’s truancy system following allegations that students were denied attorneys, treated unfairly and forced to pay high fines.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, contacted outgoing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder last month urging him to launch a federal investigation into truancy prosecutions across Texas. “I believe the systemic approach to criminalize students for truancy deprives Texas students of their right to an education,” Ellis wrote.

At Broden & Mickelsen, LLP, we are experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyers are dedicated to providing aggressive and ethical representation to individuals and businesses charged with crimes.