New bill deems truancy no longer a crime


Ben Prengler

Due to a new bill passed by the Senate, Truancy is no longer illegal in Texas. It will now be viewed as a behavioral problem and will be dealt with internally by schools.

Savannah Whitmer, News Reporter

Thanks to a bill approved by the Texas Senate in August, students will no longer be considered criminals for skipping school. Truancy, which previously was a class C misdemeanor crime in two states, has been decriminalized in Texas and replaced with measures to prevent students from missing schools.

“The change in the law piece, I don’t think that I find that disconcerting,” principal Chris Mayfield said. “The point is that we want kids to come to school, and we’re looking at different ways we can help in circumstances where the school by itself is having a difficult time getting kids to come to school.”

Legislators supporting the amendment consider truancy, or 10 unexcused absences during a school year, to be a behavioral instead of a criminal issue. Under the new bill school districts may implement preventative programs and truant students could be fined.

“It’s going to lead to fewer cases, and ultimately, that can be a good thing,” Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins said to USA Today in August. “It will do away with some of the hardships and some of the higher fines and the criminality of this. The challenge is that we make sure we keep that compliance rate up and it’s going to fall on the schools to do a lot of their own interventions now.”

While this does not mean, in Jenkins’ words, that “people who choose not to attend school won’t face consequences,” the new law does keep students who are pregnant, in foster care, homeless, or sole breadwinners of the family from being declared truant.

“Unfortunately, many students that don’t come to school are already low socioeconomic kids, or impoverished,” assistant principal Bruce Coachman said. “So number one, it straps the family because they’re going to have fines or court costs, and secondly, if they’re starting their lives with a criminal record, it’s a misdemeanor charge in most cases, but it gives them a record before they even graduate from high school.”

Some school districts, including nearby McKinney and Plano, opposed the decriminalization of truancy. However many administrators and legislators supported the bill in hopes that it would curb the growing number of Texas students sent to criminal court, which saw about 100,000 citations for truancy last year.

“My opinion is that school districts should try to handle the situation,” school resource officer Mark Mitchell said. “In the past, I know that here at Lovejoy, if a kid had missed and we could file truancy on him, the administration would work with him to figure it out. I think if the school districts can work with the kids to try to see if they’ll comply and be there the right amount of time, then do that. But if they continue not to do it and miss school, the school should have that opportunity.”

Despite the large number of students who were cited for missing school in Texas, the district usually works with students effectively to prevent most from being labelled “truant.”

“If you were to compare our school to other schools that I’ve worked at, our truancy, the percentage or cases where truancy has been an issue, have been significantly less here than other places that I’ve been apart of,” Mayfield said. “Truancy has not been a major issue at all at Lovejoy High School. We have worked with the legal system in a few cases, not many, but when we have worked, it’s been successful.”