U.S. Department of Justice Investigates Truancy Courts in Dallas

Texas and Wyoming are the only two states in the country that try kids who skip school in adult court – giving them criminal records. Now the U.S. Justice Department has launched a civil rights investigation to find out if Dallas County has been too rough on students who play hooky.

By Rhonda FanningApril 3, 2015 10:31 am

The United States Department of Justice announced they’re opening an investigation into Truancy and Juvenile District Courts in Dallas County. The investigation comes two years after Disability Rights Texas, Texas Appleseed and the National Center for Youth Law asked the Federal Government to look into the case. The groups argue that courts deny due process to juveniles charged with failing to attend school by preventing access to lawyers and imposing large fines.

“The reason we filed the complaint against Dallas County is because this is a statewide problem of students with disabilities and other disadvantaged students being prosecuted as adults, in an adult court, for something that most of us believe should be dealt with the schoolhouse. But what makes Dallas different is that Dallas prosecutes even more of these cases than Houston, even though Houston has a far larger child population,” explains Dustin Rynders, supervising attorney of the Education Team at Disability Rights Texas. “That’s because they have an automated process where these school districts are referring students over as quickly as possible to court with as few as three absences instead of waiting till ten. And instead of trying other interventions before court referral.”

There are a few bills in the Texas Legislature this session that address truancy. State Sen. John Whitmire has proposed a bill that would not fully decriminalize truancy, but would reduce the number of court referrals and set up prevention and intervention measures.