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At the March Alvarado truancy court, my 16-year-old daughter was among those students answering a truancy summons. An assistant principal from the school was there with a list of her unexcused missed days.

Jacobs asked her if she knew what she was in court for, and my daughter said she did. The judge asked for her school report cards and was impressed that all her grades were in the 90s.

Jacobs then went over the record of days when she was tardy or absent. She had an explanation for many of them, which the judge accepted. But the judge wouldn’t forgive the tardies she’d racked up because she’d turned in her parental explanatory note too late. That left 11 unexcused hits.

Monk: “Our job is to save these kids.”
Monk: “Our job is to save these kids.”
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The judge explained that she could fine her $589 per day — totaling more than $6,000 — but that in light of her school work and extracurricular activity and the fact that she had never been in trouble before, she would fine her only $589 and suspend even that, plus she would keep the misdemeanor off her record, if she had no more late days or absences for the remaining 10 weeks of the school year.

My daughter accepted. Then the judge noted that she would need to know her user name and password for her e-mail, Facebook, and other social media sites so  the court could monitor them.

My daughter accepted the terms and left.

The court clerk who checked the user names and passwords said it’s important to monitor the kids because they might be “sexting” — sending naked pictures of themselves to others — or talking about drugs, or “any number of other things. We get a lot of information from what these kids share.”

Fowler found the report of the hearing disturbing for several reasons. “The judge should never have threatened you or your daughter with the huge fine,” she said. “The maximum fine for the Class C misdemeanor is $500 with an additional $89 in court costs. The fine is for the entire offense, not daily, and so threatening you or any other parents with several thousand dollars in fines was not just wrong but would have been illegal had [Jacobs] imposed them.”

Fowler was also upset by the demand for e-mail and other social media information, which the judge also obtained from several other students that day. “That is just creepy,” Fowler said. “I’ve never heard of students being required to turn over passwords that way. I do not think it’s normal, and I would seriously, seriously question whether there is legal authority that allows a court to require that.

“I’d not only question what it has to do with truancy, I’d have significant concerns about what [the court would] do should they see anything of concern,” she continued. “What would they do if they found ‘drug talk’ on something they were looking through? Talking about drugs isn’t something we’d encourage, but it’s not exactly a crime, so what happens if they find it?”

Lee Tien is a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to defending civil liberties in the digital world. He sees the social media requirement as invasive, “not only of the student’s privacy but that of everyone that the student communicates with.”

That several of the students at court that day were required to divulge that personal information was particularly upsetting to Tien because, he said, “There is no obvious reason why it’s categorically relevant to truancy or the state’s interest in attendance.”

Tien added that the judge could be creating a security nightmare, as anyone armed with a student’s information could assume the student’s identity for any number of purposes.

“I question whether this is even legal,” he said. “In California, it’s not. Arguably it’s the functional equivalent of a wiretap — except [that it involves] online communications, not phone calls. That clearly raises constitutional due-process and First Amendment issues as well as privacy issues. If it’s done as a matter of course, it seems completely overreaching and coercive without furthering the interest in attendance.”

Jacobs did not respond to e-mails and phone calls asking for comment on potential legal problems posed by the gathering of social media information.

Monk said he has the authority to ask for such information but that he uses it sparingly.

“Each case is different regarding digital monitoring of social media,” Monk said. “It’s allowed if you think a student might be taking part in activity that might be affecting their truancy, but I tend not to venture too far into that area because I think it’s intrusive in almost all cases, in regards to the rights of privacy of the defendant as well as the privacy of the others on that social media site.”

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Fowler and other advocates were equally horrified at the use of ankle monitors.

“It’s astonishing to me that people are still using them these days,” she said. “It used to happen, but there was so much community outcry that it was mostly stopped. So it’s disturbing to hear that it is still happening in some parts of Texas.”

She said that research has consistently shown that intervention and prevention work to curb truancy, “not this tough-love approach. That’s been debunked over and over.”

Whitmire was astounded to hear of ankle monitors being used in truancy cases.

“I will be honest and say that I have not heard of ankle bracelets being used, so I can only scratch my head and say, ‘Sure, why not? Go figure.’ The judges using them are probably good friends of whoever has the ankle monitor business.”

Tucker, the policy analyst for the senate committee, was more familiar with the approach. “They’ve got ankle monitors, pager systems to get kids up in the morning, they’ll put GPS systems onto kids’ phones, all sorts of things.

“We criminalize the kids, get their social media, slap them with things like the ankle monitors in some cases, fine the parents, and you know what? Most people at the school level, the people referring the kids to courts, don’t even know that it’s happening. We spend a lot of time trying to educate school boards and educators as to what really happens once you send these kids to truancy court.”

Monk sees it differently.

“The girl I’ve got on the ankle monitor has had perfect attendance for the past weeks since it went on. It was my last resort. In her case, it turned out that she had a boyfriend who kept telling her to cut this class or that class, and the only way to stop her behavior was the monitor.”

To prove his point, he put the student’s mother in touch with the Weekly. The woman said she was thrilled with the monitor.

“My daughter hates it, but I’m a single parent, and that monitor is keeping her in school and out of trouble, so I love it. She was put on a monitor last year as well, and it helped her tremendously.”

“In my court, I need to have those kids come out with something positive, not negative,” said Monk. “I don’t want to see them twice. The young man at the alternative high school who has to report to court every day after school — well, he’s doing it for fear of the very real possibility that he’ll be sent jail if he doesn’t. But at the same time, he is reporting, and if he continues up until November, he’ll be able to graduate in December. And so far he’s making the right choice for himself.”

Unfortunately, Fowler said, Texas school officials are not using the threat of criminal sanctions only as a last resort. She said many districts make it a practice to send a student’s file to court as soon as the student has been marked late or absent just three times in a month.

“The data shows that more than half of the school districts are referring kids to court after just three tardies or absences. To us, this is evidence that these districts are not doing any meaningful intervention with the students or their families before filing those cases. They’re just sending them off to court.”

17 COMMENTS

  1. I was really interested in the article until you used Rev. Tatum as a source. That man is untrustworthy, irresponsible, entirely self-serving, and some of his activities border on being criminal. The Weekly itself reported on what he did to hold up FWISD this past summer by putting students and adults in their early 20’s to work in schools when he’d been told not to. Then he wanted to extort $70, 000 from the district for his decision to put them there. Don’t forget his $10,000 “administrative” fee he included. Please in the future use only reliable sources.
    As far as the truancy goes, like anything else there are times when poor judgement is used when dealing with school/court situations, however many of these kids that go to court are not there because parents couldn’t get them to school on time or they had to work or take care of siblings. It’s because they simply don’t want to go to class. It could be because their friends talked them into skipping or they don’t like a teacher or subject. Whatever the reason it’s a choice the student makes and should be held accountable for it. Since the court is dealing with juveniles that means the parents are also held accountable for the children’s actions. The goal is to get the parents to take responsibility for their children and get them to school. It is also the responsibility of the school districts to work with those students that do have to work or take care of siblings or need extra help in a class so they will go to class. I personally think that truancy court is an important tool for districts to use if used wisely and along with good common sense.

    • The issue is that no other states use truancy courts like Texas does–we run 2-to- 1 for the entire nation. And we have not gotten positive results. We’re near the bottom of education on every facet. Truancy courts, particularly in Dallas, have not increased attendance, only led to higher drop-out rates. Intercession, interviewing the parents has led to major drop off’s in truancy rates in some counties and ISDs. The problem might not be Rev Tatum but the way we use the hammer when a gentle prodding might work for most of the kids.
      If you were to tell me that well-to-do families were facing the same truancy problems as poor families, I’d agree with you. But with the vast majority of truants being cited for 3 tardys in a month, and the vast majority of those people being poor or living in poverty, I think you should re-think your position. A parent who allows his/her child to skip school at will should certainly be held responsible, but if the hammer always falls on the poor kids, well, that’s something else and it needs to be looked at deeply.

      • Wait, wait, wait, wait…. Peter, Texas is ranked in the top 20 states in education, where did you get your information from?! Search it up on google, literally every single source ranks Texas as an “average” or “above average” state when it comes to education. I recall that Texas received a “-c” when it came to average grades for students (California received the same grade) and the highest I’ve seen TX ranked in education was 11/50 and the lowest was 20/50. Lower attendance in schools? … Texas graduates have been increasing, do a simple freaking search. There are organizations and government sites that give updated information on this, and TX isn’t even in the bottom 50% when it comes to education in the U.S.A. May I also point out that the top 2/3 high schools in the US are located in Dallas, TX, and some of the top Universities in the >Worldalways< trying to find an idiotic way to bash conservatives directly or indirectly (One obvious motive is bias, which tends to reflect of off the writer's of the article because of their very inaccurate information which can be proven wrong with a single google/yahoo/bing search. Please, do more freaking research, these articles are utterly bull crap. Literally.

          • Ugh… I meant “Some of the top Univirsities in the world are located in TX (UT, Rice, SMU)” when it wrote *lessthan*World*greaterthan*/ and I meant “FWweekly is *lessthan*always*greaterthan* trying to bash…”

      • Well said! It is pretty ridiculous in Judge Monk’s court. My daughter had was tardy a few times her freshman year and with no prior warning, we were given notice to appear in truancy court. There were so many kids in court for similar offenses that we were there all day and for a first offense, I felt he was pretty harsh. The way he talked to the kids and the parents was uncalled for. His tone and demeanor were very accusatory and just rude. My daughter was late getting to class because it was her first year in that huge school and she was just figuring it all out. I am sure she did stop and talk to friends too long but I thought a learning curve was in order. He treated her like she was caught dealing drugs or something or at the very least like that was where she was headed…

  2. Peter, please read what I said again, particularly about using the courts wisely. The student sent to court for 3 tardies is obviously wrong but what other factors figured into that decision? Your response seems to imply that this is some kind of war on the poor when it isn’t I’ve seen case after case where parents will only respond to their child’s truancy because they are sent to court and even then the court has to threaten the parent with sanctions to get their cooperation.
    As far as Tatum goes, I stand by what I said. He’s not a trustworthy source for anything.

  3. Citizen: I think you are relying on the lobbying group ALEC, funded largely by the Koch brothers, which writes bills and hands them to congressmen at both state and federal levels for submission to help business. ALEC ranks the Texas Educational System 18th nationally, based on “focusing on performance and gains for low-income students,” and that’s it.
    But, looking at the real picture, rather than the rosy one: According to the Texas Legislative Council, in 2013 Texas ranked 44th in percentage of high school graduates–when drop outs are taken into consideration–47th in SAT college entrance exams, and only 17 percent of all Texans ever earn a basic Bachelor’s degree from a real college or University.
    Which doesn’t mean we don’t have some great grammar schools, high schools and universities. But overall, we’re near the bottom. It’s a dismal picture, nothing like 18th in the ALEC study, a study which has been pretty well lambasted by most educators as fictional.

  4. Citizen, Peter is correct about the rankings. The rosy picture painted about our graduation percentages and our educations system is simply not true. Some of the same universities that you mentioned are continually complaining about how unprepared our graduates are for college, even on the most basic levels. It’s an example of the bigger the lie the more people believe and ALEC really tells whoppers.

    • Peter Gorman, that is the most pathetic excuse I have ever heard. So the second someone disagrees with you and has data on their side, you claim that they were sent from some organization and you claim that every single source isn’t trustworthy? By the way I never gave you a specific link because a person who is smart enough to write an idiotic article should at least know how to search up info on the internet. Literally >all< the links rank Texas education as average or above average, just like I told Ken, your observations are irrelevant when it comes to ranking education, again government organizations (which aren't bias) rank the usual states (NH, Maine, Mass., RI) as the top states for education. If the data would lean towards conservative states than Alabama, Mississippi, hell even Louisiana would be ranked number one. Maybe you should do more research, one thing I know for a fact about most of FWweekly is that they hire extremely idiotic delusional ill informed people like you, I usually try to support local newspapers, businesses, etc. but sometimes hard headed biased individuals such as yourself are hard to argue with since again you have a strong bias. Fed-Up do some research, I know not 100% that is on the internet is true but if you search up "states by educational rank" on google, bing, yahoo, etc. literally every single freaking link shows Texas in the top 20, what I believe is that you guys are the type of people who base things off of what other people tell you, or maybe you just believe whatever someone from your side tells you. Do research. If you really can't see the heavy biasness in FWweekly, than I will no longer argue with you. I have posted this on forums and many people (both democrat and republicans along with independents) agree that this site is heavily biased (emphasis on bias). I bet after I wrote this Mr. Peter is going to come up with some lame excuse of me coming from an organization that I am not even familiar with. Btw this conversation is also going to be posted in the forums I participate in, in order to see what people (who support your side) say on this… and let me tell you that the last poll I did agreed with me. (I am not going to tell you the website because I don't want a very dull person like you ruining the forums for me, but I will say that the site has data from all over the world, and people from all backgrounds participate in the forums, so the data isn't bias because the polls I do are usually done in the national sections. So continue on with your observations about the state being ranked low on everything even though there is an overwhelmingly amount of evidence from non-bias sites which prove you wrong. I am done discussing with you since based off your lame/dully composed comment, you are obviously not the type that will actually let their shell crack. Adios

  5. Citizen: The problem isn’t me. The problem is that you are not looking at real data. The ALEC sponsored study, which is the study quoted by various links, is not a real study. It simply isn’t. I have no horse in this race. I would prefer Texas to be number 1. It ain’t.

  6. Citizen, I live this, it is my job. The data is being manipulated so that Texas education looks better than it is. Think about this, how can the education budget continually be under funded, remember not long ago a $5 billion dollar cut, and the quality increase. Hundreds of teachers lost their jobs, class sizes increased, hours wasted daily teaching to the standardized tests instead of teaching students what they truely need to be successful make the data impossible to be accurate. Also remember even outside the legislature with the Texas Board of Ed is controlled by ultra conservative members whose behavior over textbook decisions have made Texas a joke. Plus we have an Education Commissioner who is not an educator and has no education back round of any kind making decisions for our students. So far all of his have been purely political not practical and none of them have helped the students of Texas.
    One more thing, as soon as you begin to attack someone that disagrees with you , you have lost not only your argument but your credibility. I don’t think either myself or Peter have been disrespectful to you so speaking for myself, please disagree with me but be courteous about it.

  7. Re:Article. Unreal… Is it my understanding that we a parents have been wrong all these years to teach our children responsibility, accountability, rewards and discipline, and that what actions they take not only effect their life and others around them, positively and negatively. The educational system supports and enforces this teaching as well while providing free public education. When children( may i remind everyone these are pre-teens and young adults) do not attend or skip school, classes or are late and parents and schools have done everything possible to cure the issue, then courts and laws assume a stricter method of enforcement and encouragement to assure values and education continue on course. Rich or poor has no weight in the excuses/reasons given in most cases for a child skipping, being late etc on a regular basis. They need to be at school on time, and in class on time!! As adults their jobs require the same!!!!! This is usually the first indication of a child choosing bad behavior patterns that later become ” I don’t have to go to school”, “I dont have to follow the rules”, or ” I don’t care what the law says”. Bending rules, breaking rules, breaking the law. see the pattern here??? If parents truly love and care about the child’s education and future..then “if there is a will, there is a way!”. Foolish are the advocates that only seek to pity and return our weened children back to a milky tit and coddle them as babies, And they insult families by making them out to be poor and helpless,victims of circumstance, unable to have no control or desire to achieve and strive. Warning: the eyes of our children are intently watching all we do!!!! Being less fortunate and a single hardworking mother… do not try to preach or convince me,or my children, that we are victims with excuses and handicaps!!!! Did I missed something…but what was their solution for these 100,000 kids a year not “originally” following the rules and landing in court, to assure positive effective results long term results??? My children in the past have been in Judges Monks court for attendance. With the guidance and firm discipline in the court my children not only got back on track, but they were held accountable for “their” actions. The fines and community service served enforced that they better behave and do as ordered! Very fair!!! As a parent until they are 18, I am held accountable as well…one of the many rewards for being a parent!!! Like it or not!
    For those who claim “I didn’t know, or was not told or informed”: Parent and children are made aware of rules of attendance in what is called a “student handbook”! Notices are sent out and every attempt made to contact parents when violations occur. Courts and schools make every effort to work with parents and students to address current violations before it results in fines etc it.! I’m getting the impression that some parents, like their child, think court is a joke and they should be greeted in court by clowns, balloons and smiley faces when ordered to court for rules and laws that have been broken!!!! Guess the advocates would personally dress up in the clown suits and hand out the balloons, while painting on smiley faces…..

  8. I would also like to add that most of these advocates have watched “PeterPan” one too many times and really believe Never Never land is real…. Where children don’t have to be subject to parents, rules, laws, cares, concerns, reality, disipline, education etc…. Where they will never have to grow up!!!! So A more fitting name for all of you would surely be “The PeterPan Clan”!

  9. Mr. Gorman,

    As you may know, state education law does not address “tardies.” So, school districts have taken it upon themselves to equate “tardies” with unexcused absences, which ultimately becomes an income source for school districts and the courts. The following link is TEA’s position on “tardies:” http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/taa/legal011113.html. Although dated, the information is still current. Also, you may wish to review Texas State Attorney General opinion DM-200. It is amazing, and at the same time sad, how many school districts continue to ignore an opinion from the Texas State Attorney General.

    RH

    • That is such a lame statement… If students where in attendance as required… They would not be In court! Guess it would further be assumed that we should not place court cost and fines for anyone who breaks the law then…. The goal is to get kids to be attendance when and as required…. All which is free of charge!!!

    • That is such a lame statement… If students where in attendance as required… They would not be In court! Guess it would further be assumed that we should not place court cost and fines for anyone who breaks the law then…. The goal is to get kids to be attendance when and as required…. All which is free of charge!!! It’s not about the money… It’s about education!

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