KLRU News Briefs: The fight over decriminalizing truancy in Texas

“Texas prosecutes more than twice the number of truancy cases prosecuted in all other states combined.” That’s according to Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy group which released a report this month entitled Class, Not Court,  outlining why they support decriminalizing truancy in Texas. This weekend and part of next weekend, we look at the different sides of this issue, and try to find out why these students are missing school.

The law currently states that when a child has unexcused absences for 3 days or parts of days within a four-week period, the school can refer the child to court for truancy. If the child racks up unexcused absences for 10 days or parts of days within 6 months, the school “must file a complaint in juvenile or adult criminal court regardless of any ongoing intervention,” according to Texas Appleseed. Truancy is a Class C Misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $500.

State Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) has filed yet another bill this session to decriminalize truancy. Whitmire’s SB106 would make truancy a civil, rather than criminal, offense and would set up early intervention programs to work with the child before they get to court. He authored a similar bill last session. It passed both chambers but was vetoed by Governor Perry.

“To criminalize that I think is nuts,” Senator Whitmire said. “I don’t think it helps the family, it certainly profiles the family [and] the student, and I think there’s a better way. We need to get involved in the root cause of the truancy.”

“In most cases truancy is a problem that can be best addressed in the school setting with school officials and the family working together to resolve the underlying issues, bringing in or referring a student to non-profit organizations or other groups when appropriate, but court referral can be, or should be, a very last resort,” Mary Mergler, Director of Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project said.

Many of the people we spoke to mentioned that some districts use an automated system to track absences. We spoke to Lydia De La Garza, Truancy Specialist at Manor ISD. She told us that isn’t the case in Manor.

“At one point when I first moved to Manor, truancy filings were up to 300-400 a year. And so since I came, we cut it in half. Altogether it’s because of my position and providing those interventions and making sure we’re filing on the correct students. It was a computer generated system and it was probably like how other school districts in other areas are probably doing right now,” De La Garza said.

For her, filing for truancy is always the last resort, but sometimes a necessary one.

“So finally when I get to court, then it’s like ‘okay all of these efforts have been done. I need you to help me either make them understand that school is important and that they need to follow through with certain programs.’ Because sometimes they won’t follow through with a certain program of getting involved. Yes, me administering the programs to them is one thing. But then them actually enrolling it, I need more support of a judge to say ‘no, you need to come to these parent workshops.’ And also, working with the student to get enrolled. So we have to investigate that,” De La Garza said.

Manor’s cases end up in the Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 courtroom in front of Judge Yvonne Williams. Judge Williams sees some of the most economically disadvantaged kids in our region and on two Wednesdays per month her courtroom handles truancy cases.

“We know the big picture is we want you to be good citizens. It’s been shown if you don’t graduate you’re less likely to be employed. So, we know that’s a good goal. Now, how do we make that happen? And that’s what I grapple with in my courtroom on a regular basis,” Judge Williams said. “What I’m trying to do is get behind those issues. I am in favor of decriminalizing.  Do I have an answer to what does that mean in terms of how to enforce? Not yet, but I think good people and good minds are working on it, and one of the things we have to do is make school someplace where children want to go, number 1.  We have to recognize the reason people don’t go to school is lots of reasons. There could be issues at home, issues with the child.”

Some of those issues are highlighted in Texas Appleseed’s report: 1 out of every 8 truancy filings is a student with special education needs.

“Many times what we see is students who have never been identified in the school system as having a disability, even though they have a long standing diagnosis, even though schools are informally aware of their disability, they’re not actually labelled as special education,” Meredith Shytles Parekh, an attorney with Disability Right Texas said. “What we’re seeing is courts getting these cases where the students have the disability, but the school isn’t providing any resources, and the courts are saying, ‘My hands are tied, all I can do is enter a plea for you, find you guilty or no contest,’ or whatever the student is pleading, and assess fines or community service or some other penalty, but it’s nothing that’s going to address the underlying root of what is causing the student’s absences.”

Judge Williams does explain all of the plea offerings to every person in her courtroom, in English and in Spanish through a translator. For special needs cases she says she can usually tell and is careful not to embarrass the student in front of everyone else in the courtroom.

“If it looks like a child has special needs, then I’m going to assign them to my juvenile case manager’s caseload. That person is then going to say ‘Maybe we need to put you with some housing specialists,’ or if the child is pregnant, “Maybe we should send you to any number of the teen pregnancy programs,’ or if it’s just a matter of ‘I’m not learning the way others learn, and I’m embarrassed so no, I don’t go to school, I show up and walk the halls,’ then we need to find what it means to put that person with tutoring, and maybe some other programs that deal with self-esteem,” Judge Williams said.

 Another concern when it comes to criminalized truancy is the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. We’ll take a look at that side of the issue next weekend during PBS NewsHour.

KLRU News Briefs air locally during PBS NewsHour weekend, Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:30. This story is part of KLRU’s American Graduate initiative, which is aimed at increasing awareness around the dropout crisis in Central Texas. Lydia De La Garza is a member of our American Graduate Advisory Group.

Do you have an American Graduate story idea? We’d love to hear from you! Email us at CivicSummit@klru.org, post a comment, or tweet at us using #amgradtx. 

April 2015 Family Choice

KLRU chooses three to four programs each month for your family to enjoy and view together. In April 2015, we have the following lined up:

Wednesday, April 1 at 7:00 pm: NOVA “Alien Planets Revealed”
Combining animation with input from expert astrophysicists and astrobiologists, “Alien Planets Revealed” takes viewers on a journey along with the Kepler telescope. How does the telescope look for planets? How many of these planets are like our Earth? Will any of these planets be suitable for life as we know it?

Wednesday, April 15 at 7:00 pm: NATURE “Animal Homes: Location, Location, Location”
Finding a good base of operations is key to successfully raising a family. One must find the right stream or tree, the right building materials, neighbors and sometimes tenants. In the wild, every home is a unique DIY project, every head of household a designer and engineer.

Wednesday, April 22 at 7:00 pm: NATURE “Animal Houses: Animal Cities”
For some animals, living in the midst of huge colonies of their own kind is the most secure and rewarding housing arrangement. Icelandic puffins form nesting colonies of more than a million, providing shared information about food sources and reducing the odds of attacks on individual birds. But colonies are useful for predators, too.

Wednesday, April 22 at 8:00 pm: NOVA “Invisible Universe Revealed”
Twenty-five years ago, NASA launched one of the most ambitious experiments in the history of astronomy: the Hubble Space Telescope. In honor of Hubble’s landmark anniversary, NOVA tells the remarkable story of the telescope that forever changed our understanding of the cosmos and our place in it.

American Graduate Champion: China Smith

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

china-smithToday’s Champion is China Smith.  As a mother, teacher, and dancer, China Smith is on a quest to spread awareness about the mixed nature and diversity of the African diaspora through contemporary dance. Her company, Ballet Afrique, employs a synthesis of ballet and modern blended with Afrocentric undertones to articulate the human condition and spirit through the unbounded art form of dance. She empowers and encourages High School teens in her classes to gain a college education while also being true to their dance career.  The recognition letter submitted by the community said: “She cares very much about young African Americans and envisions a bright future for them whether it be dance or their own passions.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

 

Q Night at the Movies March 28

KLRU Q - Night at the Movies

Variety Studio – Actors On Actors at 6:30 pm
The actors responsible for the most exciting performances of the year talk about their work-and more. Featuring Reese Witherspoon “Wild” and Michael Keaton “Birdman”, Keira Knightley “The Imitation Game” and Ethan Hawke “Boyhood”, David Oyelowo “Selma” and Jack O’Connell “Unbroken”, Jenny Slate “Obvious Child” and Felicity Jones “The Theory of Everything”.

On Story at 7:30 pm
The writers of re-imagined classics and popular franchises such as GHOST, CHARLIE & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, TWINS and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN deliberate how to keep stories fresh while remaining faithful to the original version. Accompanied by Spencer and Lloyd Harvey’s short film JACK & JILL, a fresh take on the classic nursery rhyme.

Feature Film: Mutiny on the Bounty at 8 pm
First mate Mr. Christian (Clark Gable) and his 18th-century shipmates overthrow cruel Capt. Bligh (Charles Laughton) and set him adrift in the Pacific.

Ain’t It Cool with Harry Knowles at 10:15 pm
Revered Writer/Director Danny Boyle, Slumdog Millionaire/127 Hours/Trainspotting and Harry discuss auteurs. The theory that some filmmakers have so much personal influence and artistic control over a movie that they become regarded as the author of the movie is also explored as Harry chats with “Boiler” about the late William Wyler’s films.

Film School Shorts at 10:45 pm
The Genius From Quintino (Columbia) and Kiss Me (UCLA): Ricardo, a mechanic nicknamed ‘the genius’, lives in Quintino, just north of Rio de Janeiro. When a mysterious young boy shows up at his garage with a broken toy, Ricardo is suddenly faced with his forgotten past. Written and directed by Johnny Ma. Boxer Kid Vargas is forced to face up to a devastating truth after he kills his opponent, Johnny Vasquez, in the ring. Consumed by the guilt of killing, Kid’s shame is intensified by his repressed homosexuality. Written and directed by Jules Nurrish.

Highlights March 29 to April 4

KLRU Highlights

A new season of Call the Midwife starts this week! Nurse Barbara Gilbert arrives at Nonnatus and, after a disastrous start, earns the respect of her colleagues by helping a new mother overcome difficulties on Call the Midwife at 7 pm Sunday.

The third season of the popular series, which stars Jeremy Piven as the flamboyant American entrepreneur who founded the famous Selfridge’s department store, picks up the story in 1919 on Masterpiece Theater at 8 pm Sunday.

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a three-part film, tells the comprehensive story of cancer, from its first description in an ancient Egyptian scroll to the gleaming laboratories of modern research institutions. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 8 pm.

Mosaic: The Deep Eddy Mural at 10:30 pm Monday takes us on a journey from inception through dedication and all the effort and love it took to make it happen in between.

Witness groundbreaking fetal surgery in this miniseries that takes an intimate, inside look at the Special Delivery Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where rare surgeries are performed on babies inside the womb part 1 of Twice Born air at 7 pm Tuesday

Alex Gibney, Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, discusses his new film Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief on Overheard with Evan Smith at 7pm Thursday.

Arts In Context at 7:30 pm Thursday profiles Blue Lapis Light, a group that transforms urban environments into works of art specializing in large-scale productions in non-traditional public environments.

RX: The Quiet Revolution at 8 pm Thursday takes cameras across America to focus on the challenges and triumphs in our country’s health care delivery system.

Tony and Grammy Award-winner Billy Porter, star of the Broadway hit Kinky Boots, performs songs from his latest album, Billy’s Back on Broadway, and other favorites on Live from Lincoln Center at 8 pm Friday.

Great Performances at 9 pm Friday presents Annie Lennox performing songs from her album Nostalgia.

Get the secret to growing finicky lavender, plus tips on indoor aromatherapy on Central Texas Gardener at noon Saturday. On tour, a drought defiant garden turned blank land into sensational outdoor living.

Singer/songwriters Ed Sheeran and Valerie June perform on Austin City Limits at 7 pm Saturday. Sheeran lights up hits “Sing!” and “A-Team,” while June burns through material from her acclaimed LP Pushin’ Against a Stone.

Your Opinion Matters!

KLRU is committed to providing the best programming and services to its Central Texas viewers and members, and we need your help. I invite you to participate in our annual viewer survey.

The survey should only take you a maximum of 20 minutes to complete. Your insights will help us guide the strategic direction of KLRU over the next several years. Please note that all information collected for this survey is for internal use only and will not be shared or sold to anyone. Take the survey by clicking here.

Thank you for your participation. We really appreciate your time!

American Graduate Champion: Sevylla del Mazo

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

sevylla-del-mazoToday’s Champion is Sevylla del Mazo. As a music teacher at Roots & Rhythms program, del Mazo teaches students to embrace their own cultures. Roots & Rhythms is an after-school drumming program founded in 2008 by del Mazo. With drums created from recycled buckets, the bilingual students of Roots & Rhythms collaborate, create, and have some fun while learning the basics of percussion. Thanks to a grant from the City of Austin’s Economic Growth & Redevelopment Services Office/Cultural Arts Division, this program continues to foster ties in surrounding communities and inspires hope for local children. The recognition letter submitted by the community said: “Her love and inspiration is contagious. Sevylla del Mazo has found that the most important thing she can do as an educator is to teach her students the love of learning. This is exactly what she does at Roots & Rhythms after-school program. She inspires hope for these bilingual students and strives to show them that what makes them different, also makes them unique, special, and worthy of a bright future.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.

 

Science Night 4/1

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Science Night for April 1st features NASA’s Kepler mission and the conclusion of Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies.

Nova Alien Planets Revealed at 7 pm 
It’s a golden age for planet hunters: NASA’s Kepler mission has identified more than 3,500 potential planets orbiting stars beyond our sun. Some of them, like a planet called Kepler-22b, might even be able to harbor life. How did we come upon this distant planet? Combining animation with input from expert astrophysicists and astrobiologists, “Alien Planets Revealed” takes viewers on a journey along with the Kepler telescope. How does the telescope look for planets? How many of these planets are like our Earth? Will any of these planets be suitable for life as we know it? Bringing the creative power of veteran animators together with the latest discoveries in planet-hunting, this film shows the successes of the Kepler mission, taking us to planets beyond our solar system and providing a glimpse of creatures we might one day encounter.

 

Cancer: The Emperor Of All Maladies at 8 pm Episode 3 of 3: Finding The Achilles Heel
This episode starts at a moment of optimism: Scientists believe they have cracked the mystery of the malignant cell, and the first targeted therapies have been developed. But very quickly cancer reveals new layers of complexity and a formidable array of defenses. Many call for a new focus on prevention and early detection as the most promising fronts in the war on cancer. By the second decade of the 2000s, the bewildering complexity of the cancer cell yields to a more ordered picture, revealing new vulnerabilities and avenues of attack. Perhaps most exciting is the prospect of harnessing the human immune system to defeat cancer. A 60-year-old NASCAR mechanic with melanoma and a six-year-old with leukemia are pioneers in new immunotherapy treatments, which the documentary follows as their stories unfold.

Jewish Heritage & Holocaust Remembrance Month

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In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Month, KLRU will be airing programs throughout the month of April highlighting Jewish achievements and remembering the victims of the Holocaust.

We start the month off with a Passover special for children.
Sesame Street It’s Passover, Grover!  April 1 at 1 pm; April 2 at 6:30 am; April 4 at 8 am
It’s almost time to celebrate Passover and there is no horseradish to be found. Grover, Anneliese and Avigail put their heads together to track it down, but things get tricky when there is an Oofnik involved!

Mid-April, KLRU focuses on Holocaust Remembrance Month programming.

Escape from A Nazi Death Camp April 14 at 8 pm
October 14th 2013 was the 70th anniversary of an event that shook the Nazi party to its core. In east Poland, at the remote Nazi death camp of Sobibor, 300 Jewish prisoners staged a bloody break out. To mark the anniversary, this film travels back Sobibor with the last remaining survivors to reveal their extraordinary story of courage, desperation and determination. The film uses brutally honest drama-reconstruction and first hand testimony to reveal the incredible escape story. The multi-layered plot unfolds like a Hollywood blockbuster — from the last-minute change to the escape plan forced by an unexpected arrival of a train load of SS soldiers, to the systematic luring of individual camp guards to separate locations and different, highly creative deaths, yet every terrible and inspiring moment of this story is absolutely true.

FRONTLINE Memory of the Camps April 14 at 9 pm
A landmark historical film discovered by FRONTLINE in a museum vault decades ago has been called “Hitchcock’s lost Holocaust film.” First broadcast by the series in 1985, the documentary shows the first horrifying footage shot as Allied troops entered the Nazi death camps.  Drawing on initial editing done by famed director Alfred Hitchcock before the film was shelved 70 years ago, FRONTLINE reconstituted the forgotten reels and script and showed them in public for the first time 30 years ago.

American Jerusalem Jews and the Making of San Francisco April 14 at 10 pm
American Jerusalem tells the remarkable story of the pioneering Jews of San Francisco. Drawn to California by the Gold Rush, Jews were welcomed in San Francisco as nowhere else and would go on to build a thriving community, the second largest Jewish community in the United States after New York. With their newfound freedom, Jews played a central role in the transformation of this once-sleepy maritime village into the largest metropolis in the American West. As Jews integrated into mainstream San Francisco society, they were forced to reinvent what it meant for them to be Jewish, to create in essence a new kind of Jew – San Francisco Jew.

Arts In Context Producing Light April 16 at 7:30 pm;  April 19 at 1 pm.
Arts in Context spends a month with Ballet Austin, as Artistic Director Stephen Mills and company produce a re-staging of the acclaimed Light/Holocaust and Humanity Project. With unprecedented access to the dancers and staff on and off the stage, Producer/ Director Karen Bernstein and Cinematographer Deborah Lewis provide a unique look into production for Mills’ harrowing work on survival amidst a climate of indifference and hate.

American Masters Jascha Heifetz April 16 at 8:30 pm; April 17 at 8 pm; April 19 at 2 pm Discover the mysterious violin virtuoso through Itzhak Perlman, students, archival performances and home movies. His story embodies the paradox of artistic genius: how a mortal man lives with immortal gifts, honored at a lifelong price.

Jewish Journey: America April 16 at 9:30 pm; April 19 at 3 pm
A film that tells the three part story of Jewish life in the old country, the reasons behind leaving their respective homes and journeying to the US and both the establishment of communities and the great accomplishments made in the US.

American Graduate Champion: The Communities In Schools XY Zone Program

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KLRU shares the inspiring stories of the people that are making our community a success! As part of our American Graduate initiative, we’re honoring American Graduate Champions that have been submitted by the community.

communities-in-schoolsToday’s Champion is The Communities In Schools XY Zone Program. This program is a leadership development and peer support program that develops productive life skills to help students succeed in school and achieve in life. XY-Zone Coordinators engage approximately 400 young men per year in activities focused on the Five R’s – Respect, Responsibility, Relationships, Role Modeling and Reaching Out on ten high school campuses: Travis, Crockett, LBJ, Lehman, Lanier, Reagan, Manor, Del Valle, Hays, and Eastside Memorial. The effectiveness of the XY-Zone Program achieved national attention when featured in Leonard Pitts’ syndicated column as part of his “What Works” series. Pitts’ column was followed by stories on NPR’s Talk of the Nation and KUT’s In Black America. Communities In Schools of Central Texas was recognized as an organization that demonstrates a substantive commitment to access and equity for young men of color, and have played a critical role in improving the lives and educational experience for the students Communities In Schools serves. XY-Zone participants demonstrate improvements in grades, attendance or behavior; they decrease risky behaviors, increase volunteerism, leadership, and future aspirations, and they are challenged and empowered to aim high, get an education, and break the cycle of poverty. Outcomes: 90% of case managed students show improvement or maintain grades, attendance and/or behavior, 97% of case managed students remain in school, 92% of case managed students are promoted or graduate, participants are significantly more likely to report improved school/community involvement after engaging in XY-Zone activities. 400 case managed students are served each year and an additional 300 students receive short-term or crisis support. The recognition letter submitted by the community said: “When you talk to students after participating in the program, they tell you how far they have come and how they couldn’t have made it through high school without the Communities In Schools XY Zone program. The XY Zone Coordinators who work with theses students are working directly on high school campuses providing direct service to students. These coordinators serve as role models and they give the young men in the XY Zone program a belief in themselves and help inspire them to dream big, work hard, and to achieve success after high school graduation.”

Do you know someone in our community who is working to improve high school success for students throughout Central Texas? Recognize them as an American Graduate Champion! American Graduate Champions can be students who work as mentors, business leaders who serve as role models, school officials making changes to better the system, parent activists, and even struggling students who are overcoming obstacles in order to graduate.