Truant students could lose driving privileges

Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers

New Mexico students who frequently skip school could lose their driving privileges and even be arrested under a new truancy law.

The new statute gives more leverage to the state in situations where the parents of a student age 15 or older are doing their part to get their child to school, but the student is not cooperating, according to Ninth Judicial District Attorney Matthew Chandler.

“If a parent is making sure that their child is going to school, but some time in the course of the day, that child is leaving — for example in high school by driving away in a vehicle — then the intent of this legislation is to take that child’s means away of leaving school,” Chandler said.

Under the Compulsory School Attendance Act, a habitual truant’s driving privileges can be suspended for up to 90 days on the first offense and up to one year for subsequent offenses.

According to Chandler, it was only parents who faced the possibility of being arrested before the change.
Amanda Holt, a 16-year-old junior at Portales High School, thinks the new law will discourage students who are frequently truant.

“I know a lot of people where their parents send them to school, but then they leave on their own so the parents don’t really have control over it,” Holt said. “I think this will discourage them from skipping because they will want to get their license back.”

Her mother, Rhonda Holt, also likes the law.

“They definitely need to control that kind of thing. It’s never been a problem for us, but I believe kids need to be punished and it needs to be something that will make an effect on them. Taking their driver’s license away would definitely have an effect and hit them where it hurts.”

Chandler said school districts will continue to follow attendance policies already in place. Chandler said after five unexcused absences within a 21-day period, schools will contact parents for a conference and attempt to work out a solution. If the truancies continue and exceed 10 unexcused absences, then by law, the schools must refer the case to juvenile probation and the Children Youth and Families
Department to determine whether the truancies are the fault of the parent or the juvenile.

David Briseno, director of federal programs for Clovis Schools, said while the new law sounds, he’s not sure how much it will help.

“For some students, it might make a difference, but I think that for many students who are habitually truant, they may not have a driver’s license. It would take more than the threat of taking their driver’s license away,” Briseno said.

He said the schools have other resources to utilize, including the help of social workers, to make sure students are in school, but regarding the new statute he added, “At least we know we do have that kind of leverage to make sure they get their kids to school.”

Clovis High School Principal Jody Balch stressed the new statute is ideal in situations where the child is primarily at fault.

“If a parent says, ‘I’m doing the best that I can’ and says that ‘school is important but my child is not wanting to go,’ as long as that parent shows a good faith effort, then the burden of guilt falls back on the student to some degree,’” Balch said.

Chandler said letters will be mailed to all parents within the Clovis and Portales areas during the first week of school explaining the new statute.