Should Students Who Skip School Go to Jail?

Students skipping school or being tardy are perennial topics for faculty meetings. Over the course of my teaching career, I’ve seen my share of proposed solutions, including Saturday school attendance, detention or suspension, campus clean-up, and even forcing parents to spend the day with their child at school.

School officials in Dallas, Texas, think they have the answer: truant and tardy students are fined, and sometimes they are sent to jail.

We are not talking about a few isolated cases here: according to Alternet, Texas adult courts in one recent year handled 113,000 truancy cases, while Dallas County truancy court alone collected nearly $3 million in fines. It also sent 67 students age 17 and older to jail because of truancy violations, and 53 students younger than 17 to juvenile detention centers.

Outraged by this, advocacy groups have filed a civil rights complaint with the Justice Department on behalf of seven students in Texas.

The complaint, filed on June 12 by Texas Appleseed, the National Center for Youth Law and Disability Rights Texas, says that the truancy courts in Dallas County have prosecuted more than 36,000 students in four school districts, more than any other Texas county.

Children Prosecuted As Adults

The complaint urges the Justice Department to force reforms and “declare the practice of criminally prosecuting children as adults for truancy” a violation of their constitutional rights. It also asserts that the program unfairly targets minorities and underprivileged students, and routinely puts youngsters in jail rather than keeping them in school.

Alternet explains:

•    Students have been taken out of school in handcuffs, held in jail for days at a time, and fines have totaled more than $1,000 for students who miss more than 10 days of school.
•    The students who are hauled into court to face truancy or lateness charges are not provided with legal counsel. The only lawyers in the courtroom are the judge and a member of the district attorney’s office, unless the student’s family can afford their own representation.
•    Defendants are charged court fees even if they prevail in fighting the accusations, discouraging people from exercising their right to a full hearing.

The school-to-prison pipeline is not a new idea: indeed, last year the Department of Justice accused officials in Lauderdale County, Mississippi, of operating just such a pipeline, because a disproportionate number of  students who were African-American and/or had disabilities were arrested and incarcerated for alleged minor infractions of school discipline.

Dallas County has apparently found another way to operate a school-to-prison pipeline.

No one denies that truancy is a huge problem. Across the U.S., 7,000 high school students drop out every day: that’s one every 26 seconds. Since research suggests that teens who regularly skip school are more likely than their peers to drop out of school, experts are deeply concerned about truancy.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins believes he’s got the problem nailed. In a  statement, he defended the program:

“The Dallas County system offers the best chance for truant students to get back in class and graduate,” said Jenkins, adding that the courts are staffed by attorneys who specialize in juvenile justice issues, and make use of agencies who work to solve the underlying issues behind the truancy of students.

The truancy court “offers the best chance for truant students to get back in class and graduate”? Does Mr. Jenkins really believe that having truant kids sit in jail, thereby missing even more school days, is the best way to help them graduate?

Restorative Justice

More enlightened thinking in educational circles these days is even questioning the use of suspensions as punishment. As many teachers are aware, kids often enjoy those days at home, when they can play games, watch TV, do just as they please all day long.

Restorative justice is the name of a program increasingly offered in schools seeking an alternative to “zero tolerance” policies like suspension, expulsion and truancy courts.

Since suspending students, or sending them to court, often leads to academic failure, thereby perpetuating the very behavior it is seeking to address, restorative justice instead provides a way of addressing negative behavior by keeping a student at school and using various means to encourage the offender to take responsibility and make amends.

The approach, which is now taking root in schools in Oakland, California, as well as Chicago, Denver and Portland, tries to nip problems and violence in the bud by creating stronger and more open relationships between students, teachers and administrators.

There are myriad reasons for students to skip school. Students are homeless, responsible for younger siblings, have children of their own, must work to help make ends meet, or care for ailing relatives. Some enroll in schools far away and get tired of taking three buses. Others say they are bored, while still others may be afraid to attend school.

Fining these students or sending them to jail will only succeed in ensuring they never want to return to school.

What do you think?



Marina Kataxenou
Marina Kataxenou5 years ago

Since when is skipping school a crime? Maybe if they limit the no-shows your are allowed to do before you fail, kids will skip school less. Besides, we don't want kids going to school because they fear going to jail. School is supposed to be fun and a safe place for the students. There are so many things wrong with this idea that i'm not even going to enumerate them.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown5 years ago

Berny P. said "Skip school,...... no diploma........,no job,........ live off the government RIGHT???"

You know I am so sick of this mantra from the right about how all of these people are supposedly "living off the government." Well here are some facts for you; A new CBPP analysis of budget and Census data shows that more than 90 percent of the benefit dollars that entitlement and other mandatory programs spend go to assist people who are elderly, seriously disabled, or members of working households — not to able-bodied, working-age Americans who choose not to work.

The welfare queen is a hateful myth, the idea that all those able-bodied men are just sitting around getting welfare checks and food stamps is also largely an urban myth. Sure, some people cheat the system (some people cheat EVERY system) but our programs primarily assist the elderly, children, the disabled, and the WORKING POOR, not lazy bums.

Berny p.
berny p5 years ago

Skip school,...... no diploma........,no job,........ live off the government RIGHT???

Many should be made to do community service for not using their place at school - as this is an abuse of the tax payers' money used to secure these places.

And if this does not work...then yes go to jail and learn there!

Scott haakon
Scott haakon5 years ago

Waste, but it is Political correctness and zero tolerance at it's worst.

William Tarver
William Tarver5 years ago

It is impossible to live off of the government unless you are a paid politician.

William Tarver
William Tarver5 years ago

what kid of sick, twisted person would put kids in jail, where they are harmed, in every way imaginable. Is this how we love our children. We are all supposed to love and protect children not betray them.

Colin K.
Colin K5 years ago

Sending truants to JAIL is an excellent idea...with the privatizing of America's will be a real boost to the economy and once in they aren't likely to get out...NOW THAT IS FORWARD THINKING FOR SUSTAINABILITY in a weak and shaky economy...and we get to reprint all the Almanacs and books that show AMERICA as the nation with the highest per-capita rates of is good for the economy and and the Lexus and Yacht sales....GO FOR IT...

OR…. Maybe we should put the whole damn CONGRESS in jail

…and release the incarcerated... start again with those kids who leave because they are 'bored out of their gourd’ from learning lies to create patriotism and none thinking consumers…put them in CONGRESS and get some smart ROUND WORLD thinking again…the FLAT EARTH PEOPLE NEED TO BE LOCKED UP!

Marc P.
Marc P5 years ago

The bottom line is that when children are truant where is the crime??? Where is the victim? Who has been harmed other than the child? Confinement should be used only when necessary to protect the public, not to 'discipline' children who are not in school. Has anyone mentioned to the public how much this twisted plan will actually cost them???

Vicky P.
Vicky P5 years ago

No, that's just stupid. Skipping school is not a crime and should not be considered one ever, people have different reasons for not wanting to go to school, and that must be addressed not just send people to jail

Andy Walker
Past Member 5 years ago