School Choice

Honor Student Jailed for Not Warming a School Seat Often Enough

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We can't have straight-A students running loose! They might get other kids to larnin'!

There are big differences between doing business with a private vendor and doing business with a public agency. If the private vendor doesn't like the way you use its services, it might ding you on the price or even sever ties and send you elsewhere. If the public agency doesn't care for your interpretation of the arrangement, it has the power to throw your ass in jail. Which is how Diane Tran, a Houston-area high school honor student who takes advanced placement courses, gets straight-As and works full-time to support herself and two siblings, found herself in jail for "truancy."

The Daily Mail has a nice summary of the story here:

An eleventh grader in Texas was thrown in jail - just for missing school.

However, honour student Diane Tran, 17, is no lazy truant. In fact, she's quite the opposite.

Since her parents divorced and left her and her two siblings, she has been the sole breadwinner and works two jobs to keep the family afloat.

Ms Tran said she works a full time job, a part-time job, and takes advancement and dual credit college level courses at Willis High School.

'[I take] dual credit U.S. history, dual credit English literacy, college algebra, Spanish language AP,' she says of her impressive academic workload.

However, the high-achiever cannot devote as much time as she would like to her schooling as she often misses an entire day.

You have to read a few stories to fill in the gaps, but it appears that Tran's mother ditched the family, and that her father, while still involved, doesn't earn enough to pay the bills. So Tran works at a dry cleaner during the week, a wedding planner on the weekend, takes advanced courses and maintains a straight-A average. She actually lives with one of her employers at least part time, while helping pay her older brother's way through college and supporting a baby sister who lives with relatives.

Repeat after me: I will never again complain that I am overworked.

While Tran is pulling better-than-respectable grades, she sometimes misses school — either actual days, or just attendance, which seems to be legally the same thing. Mary Elliot, Tran's employer at the wedding-planning gig, told reporters, "She keeps her grades up, but sometimes she oversleeps, because she's been working."

Under Texas law, any student who "fails to attend school without excuse on 10 or more days or parts of days within a six-month period in the same school year" must be referred to "county, justice, or municipal court" for prosecution. Tran's father may be subject to the tender mercies of the legal system, too (her mother lives safely out-of-state). That's how Tran ended up before Judge Lanny Moriarty, a jackass of truly epic proportions (I feel confident in my read on his character), who sentenced her to 24 hours in jail and a $100 fine for … successfully multi-tasking?

"If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna' do with the rest of 'em? Let them go too?" Judge Moriarty asked.

Well … yes, unless you think the main purpose of school is just to get the kids to check in at appointed times so they're properly warehoused.

Oh … wait.

Admittedly, Diane Tran may have contributed to her own woes. ABC News reported that she refused friends' suggestions that she consider homeschooling "because she wanted to be named among the top-10 students in her class just like her brother." As a homeschooler, she could have completed her education without subjecting herself to the state's draconian penalties for doing things other than exactly by the rule book.

But then, like a lot of people, she may not have fully understood the huge difference between doing business on a voluntary basis with private parties, or under the constant threat of violence that comes from dealing with the state.