There has been a considerable amount of controversy over the decision by Judge Lanny Moriarty to incarcerate 17-year-old honor student Diane Tran after she disobeyed the judge’s instructions not to miss school. The Willis High School student has drawn much sympathy because she has stated that she has missed school because works a full-time job as well as a part-time job while she is taking advanced placement courses and dual credit college level courses. Ms. Tran maintains that she is often too exhausted to get up in time for school due to her heavily loaded work and school schedule
Probate court judge Moriarty has ordered Tran to spend 24 hours in jail and pay a $100 fine. Judge Moriarty has indicated that he wants to make an example of Tran to help deter other truancy violators.
Tran has stated that she is working two jobs to help support an older brother who attends Texas A&M University and her baby sister who lives with relatives in Houston. Tran has stated that her parents moved from the area after they divorced abandoning her.
Tran is Vietnamese and this type of work ethic to support family members in need while working hard to obtain good grades in school is fairly common from what I have observed living and working in Vietnam.
This case has drawn much attention in the press and has many people concerned. This case also demonstrates the challenges faced in our society as school and court officials struggle in nothing short of an epic battle to reduce truancy and the drop out rate. When I was a school district police chief, we had two school district police officers who worked with two school social workers to help reduce truancy and the dropout rate. Citations to appear in court for parents and for students were an invaluable tool.
This case is far from the typical cases that we dealt with. Our cases more typically involved students who were not performing well academically and had missed 15, 30 or more days in a single year and parents who sometimes openly encouraged their children to miss school. In one case, a parent from Germany kept both of his elementary children home from school for two years.
Having worked directly in these types of truancy reduction efforts, I am reluctant to firmly conclude that the judge in this case is absolutely in the wrong, but the available information does raise some serious questions about whether this case has been handled in a reasonable manner. I am concerned however about the judge’s assertion that Ms. Tran was absent from school following a direct court order from the judge. Judges must take steps to maintain their credibility in the court process and other violators do react to what judges do or fail to do to back up their directives to defendants.
We shall be following this case as it develops.