Under intense public pressure, Texas probate court judge Lanny Moriarty has dismissed contempt of court charges against 17-year-old honor student Diane Tran who missed 18 days of school this school year and failed to comply with the judge’s order to attend school. While these actions are very likely appropriate and necessary, they could have some negative and unintended consequences around the country.
Tran has stated that she was working a full-time job as well as a part time job to help family members after her parents abandoned her following a divorce. The case has drawn an international outcry from people who are critical that the judge did not make an exception for Ms. Tran due to her grades and work situation. People from 13 countries have reportedly donated more than $90,000 to help Ms. Tran.
Many communities in Texas and in other states have utilized assistance from courts in an effort to try to reduce the often significant and sometimes massive levels of truancy and drop-out rates with a number of large school districts graduating only about half of all students due to high drop-out rates. School and court officials are often frustrated by sheer numbers of student violators and unsupportive parents. Situations like the Tran case can help to show school and court officials that they should be flexible in unusual cases. These types of cases can also make school, public safety and court officials afraid to act due to fear of similar backlashes should they make a mistake or be portrayed in the media as having made an error.
Schools and communities today face a number of these difficult challenges as they continually are required to take on what had traditionally been parental responsibility for students. It is sadly all too common to see situations where parents abandon responsibility for their children putting pressure on students and those who educate them. Apparently, in Ms. Tran’s case, the parents may have totally abandoned their daughter putting her in a clearly challenging situation where she needed to work many hours while she was still attempting to perform at high academic levels. More typically, uncaring, irresponsible or ineffective parents fail to hold their children accountable and allow them to fall into unhealthy patterns such as truancy and excessive tardiness.
While schools in many other countries simply give up on these students and expel them, American schools as well as those in a number of other countries have attempted a number of innovative approaches to try to keep at-risk students in school. Approaches utilizing local courts have often been effective in reducing truancy and drop-out rates when thoughtfully developed and administered. Cases like the Tran case can unfortunately create an unfavorable impression for court intervention when they are misconstrued as the norm rather than the exception by groups that see almost any court intervention in student cases as inappropriate.
The Diane Tran case is truly a sad situation that will likely have a negative impact beyond the experiences for those who were directly involved.