Diane Tran, a straight-A student at Willis High School, now has a criminal record.
When she landed herself in court for missing too many days of school, local Judge Lanny Moriarty made an example of her with a heavy-handed ruling: 24 hours in prison and a $100 fine. But of all the kids to make an example of, singling out Diane was especially harsh.
After her parents' bitter divorce, Tran's been living on her own while working two jobs to support her younger brother. With this kind of situation outside school, no one would blame her for getting less than stellar grades, but she's managed to keep up an A average in AP classes and aims to graduate near the top of her class. According to a friend, Diane sometimes stays up till 7 in the morning doing homework after working shifts at a dry cleaners and a wedding-planning business. She was tired from getting so little sleep, and that's why she kept missing class.
But Judge Moriarty apparently didn't feel any sympathy for her, living up to his sinister namesake from Sherlock Holmes. When asked about the case, Moriarty said, "If you let one loose, what are you supposed to do with the rest of them? Let them go?" possibly before cackling manically.
Under Texas law, schools can send students to court if they miss more than ten days of class within a six-month period, and Diane had racked up 18. In fact, she'd been to court before over school absences, where she was ordered not to skip any more classes, which she then did. But with all the extenuating circumstances, the judge could have and probably should have been lenient.
"I can understand if a child is staying out of school, running around, a bad kid, getting into trouble, taking drugs," said Mary Elliot, Diane's boss at her weekend job, "But Diane doesn't do that. All she does is work and go to school." Houston attorney Ned Barnett, who isn't associated with the case, called the decision to put Diane behind bars with hardened criminals "shocking."
Over the past couple days, thousands of people have come out to support Diane. A Change.org petition asking the judge to take back his ruling gathered nearly 26,000 signatures, and the Louisiana Children's Education Alliance has raised nearly $100,000 for her on its Web site.
We tried to contact Diane to hear her thoughts/feelings on all of this, but she isn't accepting interview requests until Thursday after her final exams.
Update: The charges have been dropped.
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