DISD changes how truancy cases are handled

Dallas ISD makes up nearly half of all truancy cases in the state of Texas. And now, the county is changing the way it deals with students who skip school.

This year, DISD has seen a huge drop in the number of truancy cases filed in court, and it has to do with the modified way DISD counts a student as being absent. For now, DISD is testing it out. But it will ultimately be up to the state legislature to approve the change and some of the 23 other recommendations made by a special truancy committee.

“It was rather disconcerting that nearly half of the truancy cases in the state of Texas came from Dallas ISD,” explained DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa.

The truancy problem is prompting Dallas County to take a new strategy.

“Let me make this very clear: a student cannot learn if they are not in school. So it's very important that they come to school,” Hinojosa said. “However if they don't come to school, we need to figure out why.”

Over the past year, a committee appointed by Dallas County Mayor Mike Rawlings and Judge Clay Jenkins looked at the reasons why students were skipping school and were surprised by some of the answers they found.

“Students may have to get a job to help pay the bills or taking care of a sick family member,” explained Allison Brim with the Dallas County Uniform Truancy Policy Committee. “So in that case, sending them to court is going to be an even greater struggle for that family.”

As part of their list of 24 recommendations, the committee wants Texas lawmakers to remove language in the state statute that considers a student truant if they miss "part of the day" or are late three times.

“We will deal with that at the campus level,” Hinojosa said. “We will deal with that at an individual level, and they will not be referred to the courts.”

The superintendent says the recommendations are meant to be more compassionate to students and ensure they are able to stay in the classroom, with a visit to the courthouse only being used as a last resort.

Hinojosa says he's not naive to the fact that there are and will continue to be students who skip school for no good reason. Those are the cases he wants to see end up in court.

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