WESLACO, Texas (ValleyCentral) — Connectivity issues and other problems caused students to miss more classes than ever before in 2020.
Even though truancy was high during the online learning days of the pandemic, the number of truancy cases is lower than it was a few years ago.
“The year before COVID, we probably handled like 400-500 a year. Since COVID, probably about 100 cases a year,” said Gilberto Saenz, a judge in Hidalgo County.
The truancy court process can be complicated. Changes to the law mean it takes more for a case to be brought before a judge than it did in the past.
“Schools are required to do certain things before they file charges,” explained Saenz.
Schools must go through mediation processes with students that are missing several days of class and prove they made an attempt to reconcile the truancy problem with the student before the case goes before a judge.
The process of a truancy court case can be a bit confusing, the above flow chart show the many options and outcomes of a truancy case.
Since schools must now try and work out the problem with the truant students before going to court, only the most serious offenders face trial.
“And it takes them a while before the charges have been filed. But by then, we have students that are missing more than 60-70 days,” Saenz said.
Saenz said that most of the cases he sees were students who missed practically a whole semester of classes, but occasionally students would face a truancy case with only a month of missed classes.
With the pre-trial mediation process in effect, very few students go to court.
“By the time we get them, by the time they bring them in, you’ll know they’re truant,” Saenz said.
Since the mid 2010s, students can no longer be charged with a crime for missing too many days of school, but their parents still can be.
Saenz said that the court will “ask for a plea, and normally the parent will plead guilty” instead of having an actual bench trial.
Parents are being charged instead because the most common age of truant students trends younger.
“It comes out of middle school, 13 or 14. You don’t see them in high school because by then they’ve probably dropped out already. They’re dropping out in 9th grade,” Saenz said.