Advocates Seek Further Reform of Texas Truancy System

morter board with books

by Andy Jones
October 27, 2016

Disability Rights Texas, the National Center for Youth Law and Texas Appleseed submitted public comments to the Texas Education Agency on October 17, in their latest effort challenging the state’s historically punitive system for responding to students who miss school.

The Texas Legislature passed HB 2398 in June 2015, ending the state’s two-decades-old practice of criminalizing allegedly truant students.

In fiscal year 2012 alone, Texas schools prosecuted 113,000 students for “failure to attend school,” previously a Class C Misdemeanor in Texas. The following June, the three advocacy groups filed a complaint with the Department of Justice [PDF], alleging that the state’s truancy practices constituted cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment and systematically violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Texas remains one of two states where adult municipal courts handle truancy cases. However, schools must now provide prevention and intervention programs for allegedly truant students before referring them to the court system, where the cases will now be handled as civil, rather than criminal, matters.

The Texas Education Agency issued proposed regulations this past summer. In public comments, the advocates are urging the agency to direct school districts to implement programs consistent with its own best practices, rather than just require that they set minimum standards.

They are also urging the TEA to create a formal complaint process for parents and advocates where the districts don’t comply with the requirements for prevention and intervention services, among other reforms.

“Schools need robust guidance from TEA, as well as technical assistance to ensure that they make the shift envisioned by HB 2398 successfully,” the advocacy groups wrote in the public comments. “They also need to be reassured that they already have many of the tools they need to develop robust prevention and intervention programs.

“Truancy is not the result of a specific set of issues or problems addressed by a 'one size fits all' program – rather, barriers to attendance result from a myriad of problems, many of which school districts already address through existing programs and services. The critical key is determining the cause of a student’s attendance problems, and targeting services and programs to address that student’s needs."

Disability Rights Texas and Disability Rights Washington are the designated protection and advocacy agencies in Texas and Washington, respectively, and are members of the National Disability Rights Network.