BELL COUNTY, TX — A rise in truancy has bogged down Bell County courts. But lawmakers made a legislative push allowing commissioners to appoint a truancy master to help alleviate the caseload and expedite the process.
“What it allows is that in Bell County, and only Bell County, is to have the commissioners appoint a truancy master, and that is to help alleviate the caseload,” said Justice of the Peace Cliff Coleman, Bell County, Precinct Two.
Former Justice of the Peace Garland Potvin was sworn-in to truancy court Thursday.
In 2015, the court only heard 50 cases for the entire year. The numbers rose in 2018, where there were 70 cases in just one semester. In the fall semester of this year, there have been 180 cases.
The case load bottle-necked last spring.
“I heard cases in April and May, and these cases could have been filed in September or October,” said Coleman.
The program has an 80 to 85% success rate.
“All of a sudden, they come into a courtroom, and they see a judge and they see a prosecutor and they see a clerk and they see a truant officer for them, it gets real,” said Coleman.
Truancy used to be a criminal offense. However, that all changed in 2015 when lawmakers decided students should only face civil penalties.
After Thanksgiving, former Justice of the Peace Don Engleking will also be sworn into the truancy court.