Charges dropped against Texas honor student jailed for truancy
05/31/2012 5:00 AM
05/31/2012 7:37 AM
The 17-year-old Willis High School honor student whose 24-hour stay in jail for excessive truancy drew national attention had the charge rescinded Wednesday, records show.
Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Lanny Moriarty, at the Montgomery County District Attorney’s request, signed an order that vacates the contempt of court conviction that sent Diane Tran to jail last week.
The decision clears the way for the issue to be expunged from her record.
The action was taken, in part, after Moriarty looked at the extenuating circumstances that had resulted in Tran missing school and because her court summons had failed to notify her of her right to an attorney or to have one appointed for her, officials said.
Moriarty had counseled Tran the first time she was summoned to his court for excessive truancy April 25. He explained the importance of going to class and ordered her to start attending regularly.
But on May 23 Tran was brought back for failing to attend an additional four days as well as portions of another four days.
During her court appearance, however, Tran never revealed any personal struggles to the court.
Tran, a junior described by friends as “quiet and shy,” could not be reached for comment. But her attorney, Brian Wice, said Tran was under an incredible amount of pressure from working two jobs and was unsure what to tell the court.
“She is not someone unwilling to come to class because she’s attending a rock concert,” Wice said. “She’s an incredible gal who is working and studying sometimes 24 hours a day and contributing to her siblings’ support more than a teenager should have a right to do.”
Case draws attention
Her case created a national uproar after various media reports suggested she had legitimate reasons for being too exhausted to attend her classes. In an interview on KHOU (Channel 11), Tran cried about her parents divorcing and leaving her to fend for herself. She talked of working two jobs and helping support two siblings.
She was living three or four days a week with the owner of a wedding venue, The Vineyards of Waverly Manor, the owner’s granddaughter, Starla Hill said.
“The rest of the time she is staying at her own apartment where her father visits her when he’s not working in Houston,” Hill said.
To support herself, Tran helps cater wedding events on weekends and works at a dry cleaners daily after school until it closes at night, Hill said.
Some of the money she earns is also being used to assist a younger sister living with another Houston relative and her brother who is attending Texas A&M University, Hill added. When Tran’s jobs are done, she must also complete hours of homework for the heavy course-load she’s taking.
“She’s not failing any classes and getting more As than Bs,” said Hill, who felt locking her up in jail was wrong. “She’s doing the best she can.”
Fund drive for Tran
Willis ISD spokeswoman Erin Kleinecke said mandatory attendance laws require schools to report any child who has repeated absences and penalties issued are at the court’s discretion.
Kleinecke said she could not discuss the student’s grades or attendance records.
Wice praised Moriarty and Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant for helping to clear Tran’s record. “We’re gratified they decided to do this in the interest of true justice. Anybody involved now realizes it’s the right thing to do,” said Wice, who is working pro bono.
He now plans to have the record expunged so it will not impact any efforts to attend college or obtain student loans.
An Internet fund drive (HelpDianeTran.com) run by the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance has reported raising $100,000 from 49 states and 18 countries to help support her. Wice said she has no control over the fund but has undisclosed plans in the future to “earmark some of it for a greater need than her own.”
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