In a news that outraged America, a judge in Texas sent a 17 year old girl to jail for missing too much school. While on the surface, this may seem to be another stereotypical truant case one expects to involve bad child skipping classes to do something unproductive, but wait till you heard her stories.
Diane Tran, 17, of Asian American descent, isn’t like most other girls of her age. Some time ago her parent divorced in a sudden, moved away, and abandoned her and her 2 siblings to fend for their lives. Due to this Diane took 2 jobs to help out her two siblings; an older brother who attends Texas A&M University, and a younger sister who lives with relatives in Houston. She herself lives in Willis with the family of her weekend employer.
During the week she works full-time at a dry cleaner, at weekend she works in a wedding venue. “She goes from job to job from school,” Devin Hill, one of Diane’s classmates told TV channel KHOU-11. “After work she stays up until 7:00 in the morning doing her homework and studying.” Despite the odds working against her, Diane is a promising student who score top grade in her studies.
But due to her living conditions and work requirements, the young girl sometimes did not manage to attend school. According to Texas law, if a student has ten or more unexcused absences within a six-month period, the school district may refer the student to a juvenile court. “In such cases, resolution of the issue is entirely in the hands of the court,” reads a statement on the website of the Willis Independent School District.
After hitting more than 10 absences within a 6-month period, the school referred the case to the court and a judge sentenced her to a one-day imprisonment last week plus a $100 fine. An unsympathetic judge named Judge Lanny Moriarty handed down the sentence, saying that: If you let one (truant student) run loose, what are you gonna do with the rest of em? Let them go too?
Diane’s case has spread online, with dozens of news outlets across the country picking up her story. The internet is now filled with sympathies for Diane and criticisms for Moriarty. Knowing that $100 may be a big sum to a student taking 2 jobs to support her family, in less than 48 hours, HelpDianeTran.com, a site set up by the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance to help Diane’s cause, has received nearly $13,000 in donation from the public.
In an interview with KHOU 11, Diane broke down in tears over concerns that the prison record, which would be stuck with her for life, may jeopardize her chance to be accepted by good universities and also her future career. Her ambition is to be a medical practitioner to help others. On her family, Diane says, “I always thought our family was happy.” The sudden divorce was totally unexpected.
Williams, the KHOU-11 reporter, visited Judge Moriarty who sent Diane to jail and explained to him her living circumstances. The judge replied that he hopes to make an example of her to warn other school children, and that “it is not a death sentence anyway”. He later admitted that he did not look deeper into Diane’s life conditions before handing out the sentence.
Judge Lanny Moriarty is the justice of the peace for Precinct 1 in Montgomery County, Texas. He was re-elected in 2010 after running unopposed. US online netizens however, have promised to make his next election campaign “difficult”. Critics say while the truancy laws is setup to prevent kids escaping school, causing troubles on street and failing their academics, it should be reviewed with individual case-by-case basis with common sense, and leniency should be given to Diane, who not only has reasonable reasons but is herself a successful student with excellent grade.
A petition has also been setup calling for the judge to revoke the teen’s fine and erase her record. It was approaching 18,000 signatures as of now. The petition can be found at: http://www.change.org/petitions/honor-s … sentencing