Truancy? Honor student working two jobs is jailed; outrage ensues

Diane Tran is a 17-year-old honor student, a high school junior with two jobs, and now — thanks to one Houston judge and Texas student absentee laws — a criminal.

So the world decided to lend her a hand.

Going from job to job to support two siblings — while taking advanced-placement and dual-credit college level courses — Diane had missed too many days of school, according to KHOU in Houston, which first reported her story.

So a judge, Lanny Moriarty, decided she needed to do some hard time. He sentenced her to 24 hours in jail with a $100 fine for missing school after she’d been warned in April not to miss school again.


“If you let one [truant student] run loose, what are you going to do with the rest of them?” Moriarty told KHOU. “Let them go too? A little stay in the jail for one night isn’t a death sentence.”

If students miss 10 or more days of school in a six-month period, Texas law requires that the school file a complaint against the student in court or refer the student to juvenile court.

“I can understand if a child is staying out of school, running around, a bad kid, getting into trouble, taking drugs,” Mary Elliot, Diane’s boss at her weekend job, told ABC News. Diane was at the job when ABC arrived to do the interview and wouldn’t comment. “I can understand why he would slap them into jail for 24 hours. But Diane doesn’t do that. All she does is work and go to school.”

KHOU reported that Diane, whose parents divorced and left town, supports an older brother at Texas A&M University and a baby sister living with relatives in Houston.

“She goes from job to job; from school she stays up till 7 o’clock in the morning,” Devin Hill, a friend, coworker and classmate, told KHOU.

If you think this case sounds outrageous, the Internet has agreed, whipping itself into a mighty frenzy to lend Diane a hand after her story went national.

A petition asking the judge to revoke her sentence and her fine has more than 150,000 signatures.

But the Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance, based in Baton Rouge, has gone a step further, starting a website Friday to raise money for Diane. The group says it’s already raised $63,000 from donors in 11 countries.

“Our hearts broke when we read Diane’s story,” alliance President Charlie Davis said in a news release. “It’s bad enough that she’s the victim of the failing public education system, but for the judicial system to attempt to use her as an ‘example’ to others is reprehensible.”

Paul Dietzel, founder of Anedot, a fundraising service helping the children’s foundation with raising the money, told the Los Angeles Times that the foundation was working with one of Diane’s bosses to set up a trust fund for the money.

“There’s still some legalities being determined with exactly how the trust of account should be set up in order to protect Diane and make sure she doesn’t get a huge tax burden, so they’re still working out the details on that, but they’re for sure going from the [Louisiana Children’s Education Alliance] and an account set up for Diane,” he said.

Dietzel said Diane and her boss weren’t taking interview requests until the end of Thursday, when Diane’s final exams are over.

The alliance, which says it will donate 100% of the money to Diane, says anyone with questions about the effort can call (504) 222-2920.


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