Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts getting creative to try and keep kids in class
NEW CANEY- Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts is on a mission to keep kids in school and another hearing for truant students in his precinct was held on Thursday in his East Montgomery County courtroom. Just over a month after Metts’ controversial decision to send 21 truant students to jail for three days, he not only sentenced more students to jail time, he did something that was a first for him, and a first in Montgomery County.
When 38-year-old Margaret Campbell Butler, of Porter, appeared in court with her truant 15-year-old son for the fifth time without positive results, Metts ordered her to attend school with him to insure he went to school and stayed there.
Metts told the boy he “should be ashamed” for putting his mother in that position.
The son showed very little reaction, but the mother rung her hands and then began to cry. After Butler explained to Judge Metts why his order would place a hardship on her, he changed it. Butler will only have to attend classes with her son at his New Caney I.S.D. school until lunchtime each day, and then she is free to leave.
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“She has to go to school because you can’t act right,” he said.
Metts told Butler if her son fails to attend school for the remainder of the year, she will go to jail.
Another mother was jailed in recent court session, when she presented forged doctor’s excuses to the judge. She is now charged with a third-degree felony.
Metts said the most upsetting part was not that the woman lied to him, but that she did it in front of her child.
The judge said he does not enjoy putting parents or students in jail, but he is trying to prevent the youngsters from throwing their lives away before they realize what they are doing.
Judge: Every case is different
Metts said many parents themselves fail to follow the rules, though some violations are not as serious as the forged documents, such as the requirement they notify the court of address changes. Each parent appearing on Thursday received a yellow slip explaining Article 45.07 of the Texas Criminal Code of Procedures which requires parents to keep the court informed of their current address. Failure to do so can result in their arrest.
The proceedings were for students from Splendora and New Caney schools, and those in Conroe I.S.D. schools that lie within Precinct 4. The students previously appeared and were ordered by Metts to attend school every day unless they could prove there was a legitimate reason for an absence. Despite being informed of possible consequences, many students and even parents ignored the order completely.
For those 17 or older, the judge had the option of sending them to the Montgomery County Jail, which he exercised several times.
72-hours as an inmate in an adult jail
One young woman’s mother tried to keep her from being taken to jail, but had nothing to excuse her continued truancy. As her daughter was taken from the courtroom, handcuffed and in tears, the mother told her not to worry, saying she would post bond and have her out quickly. The mother then learned bond would not be set for these cases, and her daughter would serve three days for contempt of court.
Not everyone cried. A female student and a male student who were led out in handcuffs at separate times were laughing and smiling at people in the courtroom as they exited. The male joked that he wondered if the days would be excused absences. Metts said the teen obviously had not learned his lesson.
Let’s make a deal
Some of those 17 to 19 who could have gone to jail got a break instead. In the cases of a few seniors, with only a few weeks left of school, Metts made them a deal. He held them in contempt, but suspended the sentence and told them to return in June with their diploma and he would drop the charge. However, he told them if they continued missing school and failed to graduate, they would be going to jail.
One such student had been in the top 15 of his large senior class until recently when he began skipping class and his grades plummeted and left him in danger of not even graduating. He promised the judge he would return with a diploma and thanked him for the second chance.
“We live by the rule of law in America,” Metts later said. “But to me, for the judicial system to be effective, sometimes you must show mercy.”
Some students appeared with parents who told the judge they had not officially withdrawn, but had begun home schooling their children. In each case, Metts told them he had no problem with home schooling, but they were to return and show him the curriculum they were using and the student would be required to appear before him weekly and show their progress.
Despite being in the courtroom because they were already in trouble, some made things harder on themselves by misbehaving and two received citations for disorderly conduct after ignoring deputies’ warnings. One of them talked loudly while court was in session and became belligerent when he was told to stop. Another was not only talking, he was throwing paper at his friends who were also present because they were in contempt of court.
When a 16-year-old male Caney Creek High School student’s name was called, his father stepped forward alone, telling the judge he did not know his son’s whereabouts. He explained that the boy did not want to follow the rules and left home. Judge Metts told the father that when the boy was located, charges could be filed against whoever was allowing him to continue skipping school and to stay at their home. He thanked for the father for showing up to explain.
There were two programs for students under 17. One was juvenile probation, which requires the child and parent to agree to and follow a set of rules. They include a curfew of 7 p.m. every day of the week unless with the parent and the child cannot attend sleepovers or other activities away from the parent after that time each night. The students must attend all classes and have each teacher sign a sheet every day stating that the child attended. They must agree to drug and alcohol testing and meeting with their probation officer if needed. The program lasts until May 26.
Those in juvenile probation were also told they must perform a random act of kindness for a stranger, such as cooking or yard work for an elderly person. They are required to make a presentation with a report about their act when they return.
Other minors were sent to the AIM program, which requires the child to carry a device with a GPS inside that can pinpoint their location to determine they are in school or wherever they are supposed to be. The device allows two-way communication and students are required to send text messages to the monitors several times each day and to communicate with a “coach” over the phone in the evenings.
Orientations were given in small groups for each of the programs and participants were given lists of the rules.
The smallest of these
Some students who appeared were in elementary school, and a couple of them were too small to see over the counter in front of the judge. One small boy stood on his tip-toes and Judge Metts gave him a sucker (as he did all of the younger children). His mother explained to the judge how it was difficult to get him to school everyday and when he rode the bus he was picked on by other students. The tiny boy showed the judge a remaining injury on one of his hands and said, “They bully me.” His mother said she had reported the behavior to no avail. Metts listened intently then advised the mother of how to handle the situation and who she should contact for better results.
The sessions began at 9:30 a.m. and the docket was not finished until well after 6 p.m., with the judge taking time to discuss the situation with each student and/or parent individually before deciding his course of action.
“I want it to be known that we’re going to be tough on kids who aren’t going to school, but we’ll also work with the ones who want to do better,” Metts said.