Should Kids Go To Jail for Skipping School?
September 7, 2012 |
This story was originally posted on the Atlantic.
The judge peered down at Ashley Derrick from the bench and scolded her for being late to a 9 a.m. hearing in his Garland, Texas, courtroom. Derrick, 26, explained that she’d hit traffic coming from one of her two jobs as a phlebotomist. Her alleged crime: contributing to her child’s non-attendance at school, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500 and community service for each unexcused absence.
“Your son has six lates to school and two leaving early,” Judge John Sholden declared. “How do you plead?
“Not guilty,” answered Derrick. The judge set a pretrial hearing for June 27.
Outside the courtroom, Derrick, who was dressed in brightly printed scrubs, looked weary but resigned. Her son Marcus, 7, had indeed missed class time but it was for medical appointments. “My son has chronic asthma and also ADHD,” she said, “and he panics a little when he has breathing problems. So we have him seeing a counselor.” Marcus’ doctor had been tardy herself in providing mandatory excuse notes to his school, prompting the principal to file a truancy case in the Texas court. “There’s no flexibility,” Derrick said. “But I know I will have the doctor’s notes, so I pled not guilty.”
The harried African American single mom was among the hundreds of parents and students who attended truancy court on that single May day in Dallas County. Unlike Derrick, most pled guilty or no contest and were given a fine of at least $195, due in 30 days. Students risked losing their drivers licenses, too, and those who failed to appear in court for one reason or another risked arrest warrant read on..