In the recent past, Dallas ISD students represented more than half of the truancy court cases filed in Texas. On Tuesday, Nov. 29, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and County Judge Clay Jenkins presented 24 recommendations to change the system to take many of those cases out of the courtroom.
House Bill 2398, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2015, required entities to work toward decriminalizing truancy by making chronic school absenteeism a civil issue. The bill also created a Uniform Truancy Policy Committee in large counties to develop a consistent system for handling all truancy cases. Jenkins and Mayor Mike Rawlings were tasked with appointing 10 members to the committee. The group created the recommendations after meeting for nearly a year.
“I am proud of the work of this committee,” Jenkins said. “We believe we will be more compassionate and effective toward students.”
Hinojosa credited Dallas ISD administrative staff and Counseling Services for stepping up measures on campuses to curb truancy and intervene at the campus level first. He said by changing procedures, there have been fewer than 500 Dallas ISD truancy cases filed in court so far this year compared to 13,000 for the 2015-2016 school year.
A major part of the district’s efforts go toward creating an exciting, engaging and worthwhile environment for students to stay in and learn.
“Sometimes students drop out mentally before they drop out physically,” Hinojosa said.
Small changes in procedures, he said, have made a huge impact, including allowing students more time to provide proof of excused absences. Further, students who miss part of a school day, missed a class or are tardy are no longer automatically considered truant.
“Let me be clear,” Hinojosa said. “Students need to be in school, and when they’re not, there are consequences.” However, he said that doesn’t necessarily mean the absenteeism should be a criminal matter.
Most of the 24 recommendations are either being followed now or are permitted to implemented by the county. The last four require a change in state law. Jenkins said that during the upcoming Legislative session, Dallas officials will work with state representatives to push for having those changes made.