In the News: New state law pushes change in Fort Bend ISD truancy program

Houston Chronicle - August 15, 2015
by Leah Binkovitz

A new truancy law puts the Fort Bend ISD under extra scrutiny as classes resume later this month.

The fast-growing district earned a reputation for its high volume of complaints that disproportionately sent black and Hispanic students to a special county court set up to handle truancy cases. Texas' new law means that those cases will no longer carry a criminal charge and that school districts across the state are responsible for doing more intervention prior to sending truant students to the courts.

Advocates say much of the law's intended outcomes depend on its implementation.

"We must have a real commitment to reducing the discriminatory way students are being criminalized," said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, who was among those pushing for reform. Decriminalizing truancy was an important first step, according to Ellis, but he's looking for Fort Bend ISD and others to address racial disparities within truancy filings.

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"The new truancy law will help keep kids out of the courtroom and in the classroom," wrote Lauren Rose, a juvenile justice policy associate with Texans Care for Children, in an email. But to address issues like racial disparities in truancy filings, schools will have to go a step further. "School leaders can reduce those disparities by setting clear truancy and discipline policies, studying their local data, and actively working to address biases," she wrote.

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