A judge is making headlines today for “making an example” of a student by punishing truancy with a record and jail time.
11th grader Diane Tran was ordered to spend 24-hours in jail and pay a $100 fine because she missed a few days of school. The Texas honor student had become overwhelmed with AP Spanish, college level algebra, and dual credit English and history courses, a full-time job at a dry cleaners, AND and a second part-time job at a wedding venue, Vineyard of Waverly Manor. Her jobs help to support her brother who’s at Texas A&M University, and her baby sister who is living with relatives in Houston, TX.
The Willis High School junior tells KHOU-11 News that her parents divorced “out of the blue” and left the state without their kids. “I always thought our family was happy,” she explains, tearfully. The mother has since moved to Georgia, and Tran lives with the family who owns the wedding venue where she works on weekends.
Tran was reportedly ordered, in April, by the same judge in his Justice of the Peace court, not to miss further school following noted absences and tardies. Summoned to court Wednesday for subsequent absences, the 17-year-old was arrested upon arrival.
Judge Lanny Moriarty was unmoved by a student who, friends say, “goes from job to job from school; she stays up ‘til 7 o’clock in the morning doing her homework.” Leaving Tran too tired some days to arrive at school on time or at all.
Under Texas law, ten or more unexcused absences within six-months means the school can (not necessarily should) refer the case to juvenile court at which time the court can (but does not appear to be obliged to) take action. Moriarty opted to rebuke Tran. Not caring that it’s stained the girl’s future, the judge blithely told reporters: “If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna’ do with the rest of ‘em? Let them go too? A little stay in the jail for one night is not a death sentence.”
Admitting in retrospect that he probably made the wrong decision, Moriarty didn’t want to appear “soft” by throwing out the case after learning of Tran’s hardships (he does not appear to have known the facts of the case at the time of making the judgement). Moriarty will make a decision this week about striking the jail time from Tran’s record.