POSTED: Tuesday, November 16, 2010 - 8:39pm
UPDATED: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 - 10:02pm
Truant officers are supposed to help kids stay in school. At least that's what we thought. Evidence suggests the opposite is true at Bowie High School.
Previous investigations have cleared Bowie of claims that it pressured students into leaving to raise the school's test scores.
But tonight, we talk to a woman who says she's seen Bowie's bullying tactics firsthand.
The Bowie High School freshman class of 2007 started off with 381 students.
168, less than half became sophomores to take the TAKS test.
So, where did the other students go?
Linda Hernandez Romero is an ex-employee at bowie who now works at a charter school.
She says she knows where those missing Bowie Bears went.
"To see that we had so many students come in from Bowie at one time, maybe in the forties, fifties and even more," Hernandez said.
Hernandez says students told her they were edged out of school and that truant officers looked for ways to get rid of them instead of keep them.
"The truant officers let the principal know who are the students or photograph them and then the principal takes it upon himself to contact the student, bring them in and tell them to withdraw," Hernandez said.
Hernandez is confirming what State Senator Eliot Shapleigh has been saying all along.
"Showing up at the bridge at 5 a.m. in the morning or knocking on apartment doors or going door to door on the South Side these are American citizens. I'm talking about U.S. citizens have a birth certificate, born here in this country. And they're telling them, you can't come to school today," Shapleigh said.
She says some families were so scared of what the truant officers told them they left the district.
"Some of these parents were told that they were going to go to jail, they were going to be deported, and we've heard so many stories and I think the scariest one for these parents was being sent to court and having to pay $500 to $1500," Hernandez said.
We spoke with Judge Guadalupe Aponte, who handles truancy cases. She told us that she feels a principal or any other school leader cannot assess a fine to a student.
Judge Aponte says she does not fine the students until she hears their case, and even then each student usually has three months to do what the court orders.
If the student complies, the fine is waived and only the $85 in court costs must be paid.
We also asked Judge Aponte what the job of a truant officer is.
She said truant officers are there for security for the schools. The school has the responsibility to the student to send a truant officer if there are too many absences. Notice must be given to parents and if absences continue... then the school has the right to file a complaint and then students who are minors are brought to court with their parents.
Hernandez says she doesn't think the truant officers are being used the way they should.
"We also had others that were caught on the bridge by truant officers, there were some that truant officers went to their homes. They're not immigration, border patrol, it's just E.P.I.S.D.. The El Paso Independent School District. They should just tend to their business and accommodate and facilitate these students to a better education," Hernandez said.
We asked Hernandez why she thinks Bowie booted so many kids.
"They wanted it easy, they wanted these kids out, they cleaned it out and now we have a lot of kids are the disappeared," Hernandez said.
"I just want everybody to know that I'm not doing this for myself, I'm doing this for these kids that I see daily, struggle, and are very very intelligent. They have just been cut short of education within the El Paso Independent School District and it's just sad," Hernandez said.
We did speak with E.P.I.S.D today and asked them for a statement on last night's story. They have yet to respond. But, as we reported last night, the E.P.I.S.D. issued a statement reminding us that previous investigations have cleared Bowie of wrongdoing.
In fact, the district applauded what it called the "remarkable progress" that Bowie High School is making.