Federal investigators are checking whether Dallas County and its truancy courts have been too rough on students who skip school, reports the Dallas Morning News. The U.S. Justice Department's review comes in response to complaints that some students have been punished unfairly, being handcuffed in court, denied access to an attorney and ordered to pay exorbitant fines. The inquiry was announced the same day a Texas legislative committee sent the Senate a bill that largely would move truancy cases out of criminal courts and into civil proceedings. Texas and Wyoming are the only states that prosecute excessive unexcused school absences in adult courts.
Attorney General Eric Holder said the investigation of the truancy and juvenile district courts in Dallas County is part of the department's focus on helping offenders keep from getting stuck in a school-to-prison pipeline. “The Constitution's guarantee of due process applies to every individual, regardless of age or disability,” Holder said. According to the Justice Department, Dallas County prosecuted about 20,000 failure-to-attend school cases last year. Three advocacy groups in 2013 filed a federal complaint about the county's truancy courts, which at the time sent law officers to school campuses to arrest and detain students who missed truancy court dates.