Dallas Truancy Policy Challenged in Federal Complaint

Wednesday, 12 Jun 2013 10:31 AM

By Melanie Batley

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Dallas-area school districts are imposing cruel and unusual punishment on students as young as 12 and violating their civil rights by prosecuting them in adult court for being absent and truant, a federal complaint says.

Three public-interest law centers lodged the complaint Wednesday with the Justice Department, according to The Washington Post.

In some cases, the groups claim, students are handcuffed and arrested on campus and are fined in court for having 10 absences. Despite excusable reasons for absence, an automated tracking system flagged them for prosecution, The Dallas Morning News reported.

"Dallas is, by far, the most aggressive in the state of Texas, and Texas is way more aggressive than any other state," Michael Harris, senior attorney at the National Center for Youth Law, told the Post.

City lawyers who filed the federal complaint, the Post reported, said that Texas sends about 113,000 students, ages 12-17, to court for truancy violations every year. That's more than double the number prosecuted in the other 49 states combined each year. According to the complaint, Dallas prosecuted more than 36,000 truancy cases last year alone.

Advocates of the system say it is successfully achieving its goal of ensuring high graduation rates. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins contends the system already has led to a 12 percent decrease in the Dallas school district's dropout rate.

"Graduating is the goal," Jenkins said in a statement Tuesday. "With the state cuts to dropout prevention, the Dallas County system offers the best chance for truant students to get back in class and graduate."


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