In Hood County, the school year starts with a deputy’s warning.
If a student is unexpectedly absent, according to a letter sent parents, “a uniformed deputy will visit the student … at their home or work or their parent’s home/work.”
This tough-on-truants approach is not new in the Granbury schools. But it’s always a jolt to newcomers, particularly those unaccustomed to the idea of armed deputies double-checking class roll.
“Aw, we send out that same letter every year,” said county Constable Chad Jordan. His office operates the program for the school district under a $58,400 contract.
“But this year, somebody put something about it on Facebook.”
A posted copy of the letter drew nearly 300 comments in a Facebook discussion group, some from parents concerned about SWAT teams coming after kids, others defending the program as needed enforcement.
Jordan’s letter to parents, sent on a county letterhead and not the district’s, warns that even an excuse the next day is too late and will “already have hindered the deputy’s time.”
The letter is labeled “Absent Student Assistance Program.”
As you might expect, it’s also the More State Money for Granbury Program.
With Granbury ranked as a property-wealthy district that shares tax revenue under the ever-evolving state funding system ordered by courts under the Constitution, the district’s best way to boost revenue is to lure students and keep them in school.
That also works for law enforcement, Jordan said.
“Truancy leads to a lot of problems,” he said.
“When a kid’s not in school, they’re in other things.”
According to the Hood County News, deputies have worked as many as 578 truancy cases per year in some recent school years, or an average of nearly three cases per school day.
In Texas, parents and even students 17 and older can be jailed over truancy.
Weldon said the number of students jailed for skipping school is “very few,” but more are fined in county peace justice court.
A few is still too many, said Deborah Fowler of Austin-based Texas Appleseed, which argues that jail time and fines are not the best way to solve chronic home problems better solved by social agencies or through mediation.
“This is not what most people now consider effective,” she said, reading Weldon’s letter.
“Sometimes, having a law officer come out as a scare tactic just makes a family problem worse. It reinforces why the kid’s not in school.”
Sending the law doesn’t always solve problems.