17-year-old Diana Tran is an honors student in Willis, Texas, who takes advanced placement and dual credit college-level courses. She also works full-time at a dry cleaners and, on the weekends, at a wedding venue, the Vineyard of Waverly Manor, all to help support a baby sister who lives with relatives in Houston and an older brother who attends Texas A & M University. Her parents, as KHOU News reports, divorced “out of the blue” and her mother now lives in Georgia.
That’s an awful lot for any teenager to handle but there’s still more. Due to working full-time while being a full-time student — and being exhausted — Tran has come late to class, often after attendance is taken, or missed class altogether. Last month, she ended up in the Justice of the Peace truancy court, where Judge Lance Moriarty warned her to stop missing school. But after she again recently missed classes, Moriarty had her arrested in open court, ordered her to spend 24 hours in jail and fined her $200.
According to KHOU News, the judge’s intent was to make an example of her: “If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em? Let them go too?”
Point taken. But Tran is not cutting class to go hang out at the mall. People around the country are rallying to help her: “Now this girl’s got a record, which could hamper her later in life,” said one viewer, David Byrne of the Woodlands. On Facebook, one commenter, Bill Palmer, wrote “Don’t you feel safer now that an honors student has been thrown in jail? This is ridiculous.” Some other comments have criticized Tran’s parents and, according to her friends, she feels she has shamed them.
Trans lives with her part-time employers at the wedding venue and they are seeking to set up a fund for her at a local bank.
Texas’ truancy laws are far more stringent than elsewhere in the US. According to Houston Independent School District,
State law (Texas Education Code Section 25.085; PDF) provides that if a student is absent from school without parental consent for any portion of the school day for three days in a four-week period or for ten or more days in a six-month period, the student and the student’s parent or legal guardian are subject to prosecution by the Harris County Justice of the Peace Courts or Municipal Courts. The student may also be referred to a juvenile court.
It is also noted that “principals may excuse absences for personal illness, death in the family, or other legitimate reasons.”
Of course Tran needs to attend school. But jailing her — resulting in a criminal record for her — is the wrong approach. As David Ferguson writes on Raw Story, the judge “admitted to KHOU that he could perhaps have been more lenient, but that the hadn’t given any thought to reversing the sentence.”
Take action and sign the petition asking Judge Moriarty to reverse Diana Tran’s sentence for truancy!
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