The new truancy policy leads to a school based version of teen court. (Dalton Roberts)
The new truancy policy leads to a school based version of teen court.

Dalton Roberts

Trial by Friends

New Truancy Law Results in School Based Teen Court

September 28, 2015

Beginning shortly after school on Sept. 23 in room 113, a school-based Teen Court is scheduled to start functioning in each of the WFISD high schools.

Teen Court functions as District Court does for the most part, but with peers evaluating the cases of peers before those cases are sent to the District Court. The purpose of Teen Court is to prevent an excess of students from going to court for truancy or other offences that may have extraneous conditions, and to stop those offences before they reach critical levels.

It will also result in fewer students getting sent to ISS and suffering other punishments that are administered by the school staff when there is something going on.

“The students will be the facilitators,” Teen Court Coordinator Myra Weeks said.

Students should have a reasonable amount of integrity before they consider applying for Teen Court because students without integrity may lead to biased decisions which may be unfair or overly generous to the student in question.

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Teen Court will be managed primarily by the students who take part. Aside from a minor amount of contact with Weeks and Phillips, the students will perform court operations without any outside assistance.

The student court will determine whether or not students’ offenses are to be sent to the District Court immediately or if the student will be given a grace period time in which they are not to commit any offenses.

“Here the students can be heard,” Weeks said.

In a Teen Court session, Weeks will receive a case and call the students about it. During that call they will set up a trial and notify the offender. On trial day the offender will meet with their advocate and discuss the situation. The advocate will translate the gathered information to a jury of five, who will then make a decision. Should the student be cleared, there will be no court case filed. Otherwise, there will be a short, generally two to three weeks, period in which the student is advised not to engage in any other offenses. Should this period clear without issue, the case will remain unfiled, but a failure to clear the period will result in the filing of a court case.

Teen Court’s primary intention is to prevent students from suffering the consequences of truancy court.

“Truancy court is a pipeline to prison,” Weeks said.

Being truant was previously considered a criminal offense, and as such, students could be charged as criminals would be, getting fined or even jailed.

On Sept. 1, the laws on truancy changed so that students could no longer face criminal sanctions for being truant.

Instead they now face mentoring and counseling, and if those fail, they are sent to truancy court. At truancy court, students can be fined, lose their privilege to drive, and be referred to juvenile court. A student’s loss of driving privileges can result in fines against their parent(s) or guardian(s) if they fail to transport their student to school and the student is therefore truant.

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