Following Uvalde mass shooting, lawmakers say truancy laws need a reset

UVALDE, Texas – Texas’ truancy laws received fresh scrutiny following the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

A bill filed by State Sen. Paul Bettencourt would help bring consistency to how truancy is handled by school districts across the state. After passing the Senate 30-1, Senate Bill 1630 was recently voted out of a House committee and is now headed to a vote in the House.

“So, this is a restart of the entire civil truant process with schools, parents, and students,” said State Sen. Paul Bettencourt/(R) Dist. 7.

KPRC 2 Investigates reported on the issue of truancy following the mass shooting in Uvalde and Bettencourt cited our work when he filed his bill.

According to data from the Texas Education Agency, there were a combined 132,125 cases of truancy last school year for Houston, Katy, Cy-Fair, Galveston, Conroe, Fort Bend, and Spring school districts.

Bettencourt’s bill would require school districts to adopt attendance policies that address truancy, require meetings between parents/guardians and administrators if a child is truant, and if the parent doesn’t show up for the meeting, then school officials can visit the child’s home to determine what is preventing the child from attending class.

The bill also calls for districts to identify both in-school and outside support services for students in need of help.

“The problem is we’ve got a lost generation of truant children, truant students because they’re not in school,” said Bettencourt. “We need to restart truancy, effectively. It’s fallen apart.”

State law defines truancy as a student who has 10 or more unexcused absences during a six-month period. However, the state also mandates schools notify parents and implement truancy prevention measures when a student has three or more unexcused absences during a four-week period.

Every district KPRC 2 Investigates spoke with reported having staff dedicated to tracking attendance and chronically truant students. However, how each district handles truancy can vary from referring the student to a truancy court to suspension, or even expulsion.

The state legislature decriminalized truancy in 2015, noting many students miss class because of hardships in their home life. Truancy courts can meter out civil remedies to students and parents, such as ordering tutoring programs, GED classes, community service or a range of other programs. If a parent or student is found in contempt of court orders they can be fined.

Bettencourt’s bill would bring more consistency to how truancy is addressed by districts without penalizing students who miss class because of problems at home or economic hardships.

Lawmakers scrutinized current truancy laws after it was learned the Uvalde school shooter missed more than 100 days of school, had been involuntarily withdrawn from the district and there was no clear record of whether anyone ever visited his home to find out why he was missing class.

SEE ALSO: A year before Uvalde shooting, gunman had threatened women, carried around a dead cat and was nicknamed “school shooter”

Since Uvalde massacre, active shooter training has since doubled for many school districts in Texas

21 killed at Uvalde elementary in Texas’ deadliest school shooting ever

5 takeaways from the House committee report on the Uvalde shooting

About the Author:

Award winning investigative journalist who joined KPRC 2 in July 2000. Husband and father of the Master of Disaster and Chaos Gremlin. “I don’t drink coffee to wake up, I wake up to drink coffee.”