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June 02, 2012

Honor student gets jail for missing school

By Carol Lloyd

Executive Editor

In the crackdowns on bad stuff that happens at our schools, it always seems there's a case in which a school district or government official ends up crossing the line into utter madness. In enforcing zero-tolerance laws against violence, you get a policeman taking a kindergartner away in handcuffs. When a school district decided to lay down the law about residency fraud, city officials arrested a homeless woman whose egregious criminal act involved enrolling her son in a higher performing school district.

Honor-roll truant

Now truancy has its own bassackward award: the case of Diane Tran, a Texas honors student who works two jobs to help support her siblings and was jailed for missing school. The 17-year-old Tran spent the night in an adult jail and was fined $100 as a result of at least ten unexcused absences over a six month period, but KHOU, a local television news, intervened on her behalf and convinced the judge to set aside his order.  

According to news reports quoting her lawyer and classmates, Tran works one full-time and one part-time job in addition to her academic load which includes AP and college level classes. Sometimes her schedule leaves her so exhausted, she sleeps through the school day. Outrage and sympathy for Tran's situation led a non-profit to create a web site HelpDianeTran.com that collected nearly $100,000 for the hardworking teen. Tran, a real class act, has declined the money saying she wanted to donate it to a kid who really needs it. 

Chronically absent: where the h*** are the parents?

Truancy is indeed a problem in our schools. According to a recent report by Johns Hopkins researchers, up to 7.5 million students miss a month of school each year. The report found that chronic absenteeism, whether it's unexcused truancy or excused for sickness or allergies, has devastating effects on students' long-term academic prospects. Kids who miss a lot of school for whatever reason are more at risk for failing grades and dropping out. (Want to know if your child's attendance is at risk of damaging his future? Check out this cool attendance calculator from GetSchooled.com.) 

But targeting kids as truants often makes about as much sense as arresting kindergartners. When I read such stories I feel like screaming: where are the parents?  In Diane Tran's case, news reports didn't really address the issue. Apparently her parents recently divorced and her mother moved out of the state; her father works long hours and her younger sister lives with other relatives. No matter how loving these parents are, the situation sounds far from ideal.   

Right now many school districts across the country are attempting to crack down on truancy and with good reason. It's damages the educational possibilities for many kids but, let's face it, it's also a royal pain in school budgets. Every unexcused absence means less money for schools, so there's a clear financial incentive for schools to pull out the big guns. My own daughter got branded as a truant in 1st grade after her irresponsible mother failed to call her in sick for the second day in a row, now it's on her record, not mine. How does that make any sense?


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My daughter has been in a similar situation with school. The fact is that these teachers take several days off for "workshops" and such every four weeks or so. They can freely take all the time they want off from teaching, but when there is some situation where the child needs to take off, it's a crime! I don't want my daughter in public school anymore - it's detrimental to her progress, her psyche, it demotivates her. It's a waste of time. I'd like her to go to a more creative school, but there are no choices anymore.

My daughter has had Mono for three (diagnosed) years, and probably the two years in between. She has always been in the honor classes making A's and B's. I have been on probation for this for one and half years, (had the doctors's excuses), and now for the second time in 3 months they are sending us to the prosecutor AGAIN! This is after the school requested yet another form to be filled out by her hemotology specialist. Even though I picked up her homework every two to three days, on the last day of school, one teacher "found" two and a half hours of more homework, and then two other teachers found "more" homework, and now she has 2 F's that cannot b changed, according to them. She is majorly depressed and now is suicidal over their inept ability to see what grades are missing in their gradesheets.

Carol. Great post. I am an editorial writer for YourPBC.org, a Knight Foundation-funded civic journalism website in Palm Beach County, Fla. We’re examining this summer parental involvement in their children’s education. I’m wondering if there’s any chance of posting this blog on our website so it could shape our local debate.
Please let me know. Email: fooksman18@gmail.com.
Thanks, Leon

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