DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Cruel and unusual. That’s how a group of parents is describing the punishment for truant students at several Dallas-area schools, and they’ve filed a lawsuit to stop it.

Three advocacy groups filed the complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of seven students who attend school in various Dallas County districts. The suit claims students are treated like criminals for missing class even when parents offered excuses for why their children were late or absent. The complaint also states the Dallas County truancy court system is flawed and says schools are too harsh with truancy rules. The suit names the county’s truancy courts along with the following four school districts: Dallas, Garland, Richardson and Mesquite.

Nicole Pryor has two children involved in the lawsuit. Her 16-year-old daughter Ashley Brown is an honor roll student at South Oak Cliff High School. The teen was summoned to court even though the school incorrectly marked her for having several unexcused absences.

“This truancy is going to mess up her record. This shows up when they do a background. I’m a single parent. What do they expect me to do? I’m afraid my child could go to jail because of this,” said Pryor.

“I was just angry and outraged,” said Pryor of the treatment of her two children, who have both been handcuffed and accused of violating the county’s truancy policy.

Ashley says she felt “like a complete criminal” and the

The lawsuit asks the Department of Justice to ban the use of handcuffs in connection with truancy cases and to declare the prosecution of truancy as a crime unconstitutional.

Babeeta Hemphill from Garland ISD says 96% of students attend class as they are supposed to, but some need intervention.

“For us it’s our last resort,” said Hemphill. “I think the court system is needed. There are some kids who are not going to respond, even to all the measures we put in place.”

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins released this statement in response to the suit. “Graduating is the goal. With the state cuts to dropout prevention, the Dallas County system offers the best chance for truant students to get back in class and graduate.”

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