School's Out Forever

Bizarre tales of beatings: Why are the truancy courts ("Absent Without Leave," by Mark Donald, April 24) so bloated? My son's story may shed some light on that. Last year he experienced a brief period of missing his bus, which made him miss enough first-period classes in his DISD middle school to get us both summoned to truancy court. I knew that my honor-student son did not have an actual truancy problem, and I tried to explain to his school administrators that we had corrected the morning tardiness problem. They informed me that there was nothing they could do, and good luck in court. By the way, they added: I would owe a $150 fine, regardless of the court's findings.

By the time our court date arrived, my son had maintained a nearly perfect attendance record for six months. But we still had to drive to South Oak Cliff and suffer through truancy court proceedings. And that was a surreal experience. We were harangued by a strange old judge who shouted at his audience that all juvenile delinquency would be solved if parents would just start hitting their children again. I am not exaggerating here; my son and I exchanged shocked glances many times that day, as the judge became increasingly bizarre with his tales of beating his own children and being beaten by his own mother. All of which were GOOD beatings, according to him.

One bit of good news for us: The prosecutor waived our $150 fine because of my son's good grades and attendance record. But the point is, if the school personnel had been authorized (or willing) to work with me as a parent, my son and I could have been spared the whole mess, and the already overcrowded truancy docket would've had one less case to deal with. The school district's "zero tolerance" policy left me feeling bitter and disrespected as a parent. It was obvious to me that it's not about what's best for my son. It's all about the school district's bottom line (i.e., the district gets more money for high attendance records).

Holly Hunter

She's sick, I'm sick: I read with interest your article about drop-outs. My daughter is one of them, at my request. She was recently diagnosed with a lifelong disease, and rather than battle with the courts because of her absenteeism, we decided it would be in her best interest to get her GED.

It's taken us two long years and many doctor visits to find out what was wrong with her. And even though the school knew she's been sick, they sent her name into the courts, and we had to go last week. (This is the second time in two years.) We asked for a trial, which will be May 8. I also found out that even though she's classified as a "criminal," we can't get a court-appointed attorney, for whatever reason. So we'll be there without representation.

We can't help she missed a lot of school, but as I said earlier, it took us a long time to find out what is wrong with her. And I can't believe a school would turn a kid in, even though she's sick. I'm sick of the whole thing. I'm sick of the attitude and lack of caring on the part of the power-hungry attendance clerks at the school. They don't care. They just want their money!

Your article was good, but it didn't show just how hard it is for someone who really wants an education and wants a future but can't deal with the politics of a sad school system.

There are a lot of reasons why kids and their parents get fed up. Dealing with DISD is like driving your car into a brick wall.

Thank you. Maybe you can make a difference.

Debbie Moses

Kids in handcuffs: In my opinion, the truancy courts are a scam set up to extort money from the poorest parents.

At first I thought the effort being made was a good idea when I witnessed several hours of hearing these cases in the Garland justice of the peace court. But then I realized that the parents who needed this court-enforced intervention the most could afford it the least, because of the fines and the forced court counseling. They have to pay for this counseling themselves.

For the kids, I feel that it makes the situation that much worse for them. On top of the other problems they may be having, now they are frowned upon by their parents and peers for being in "trouble" with the law. I don't know, but seeing children in handcuffs is VERY disturbing to me.

In my opinion, all the money spent on administering these truancy courts would be much better spent on parenting and parent support groups. These kids need parents who have better parenting and coping skills. The last thing they need is legal trouble and a negative label for their children and themselves.

Name withheld

Schooling vs. education: I really enjoyed the humor in your April 24 issue--Jim Schutze on absentee ballots ("Sherlock Doofus"), the stripper clubs (Full Frontal), Buzz's comment on Alabama outrage.

As for the truants, it is an incredible waste of resources to force children to attend school, but what's worse is the damage done to the children, the breaking of their spirit. We should not confuse schooling with education. Now we have jail, handcuffs, boot camp, to achieve what? The wasting of a child's day in a mind-numbing, gang-infested, zero-tolerance youth prison camp.

Study how Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were educated, and our 19th- and early 20th-century literacy rate. Study the growth of compulsive schooling and the decline in literacy.

Even if we march the kids to school at the point of a bayonet and guard them in class, the end product will not be an educated adult. What education we receive is from life itself, and this is denied to children forced to spend it locked inside a building.

David Smith
Via e-mail

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