By Carol Lloyd
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.
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?