Playing Hooky No Longer a Crime in Texas

Schools now required to combat truancy

As of Sept. 1, 2015, skipping school is no longer a crime in Texas.

The legislature decriminalized truancy after critics pointed out Texas prosecuted more children for playing hooky than every other state combined and made the problem worse.

Schools are now required to intervene to keep students in school, but public school districts won’t get any more money to do it.

The criminal records of those charged with truancy will now be erased, allowing them a fresh start.

"I think sending a kid to criminal court for truancy is egregious on its face,” said Morgan Craven, director of the nonprofit public interest group Texas Appleseed.

She and others pushed for the change.

"This was necessary because we saw so many Texas children and families who were being negatively impacted by the old law, which criminalized truancy,” she said.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins also supports decriminalization but worries schools can't fight truancy on their own with no increase in their budgets.

"What everybody in this system wants is for these children to stay in school and graduate,” Jenkins said. "We need to do more to adequately fund our schools including programs like this."

Abram Herrera, 18, a former student at Sunset High School, is like many teenagers who skipped school.

He admits he often missed morning classes because he slept late.

"I was late to school, oh my God, like 20 times,” he said.

With so many absences, he was called into truancy court and charged with truancy, a misdemeanor.

"I just got scared the first time I got called to court because I didn't know what was going to happen,” he said. “I thought I was going to go to jail."

He didn't get locked up but he was fined $375, which his parents made him pay himself.

"This actually worked for me,” he said.

Herrera said getting hauled into court got him back on track. He finished school and recently picked up his diploma.

But he worries about other students who skip classes under the new system.

"I'm thinking there might be a lot of dropouts,” he said.

Herrera plans to attend El Centro College soon to study nursing.

"Right now, I just look back and I learned my lesson,” he said.

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