An intriguing story almost slipped by unnoticed yesterday. It is about a truancy program in the Mesa School District, which is Arizona’s largest.

The “no-nonsense” program provides a series of checks on student absence, which may culminate in a misdemeanor conviction.

You may read the whole story here.

As it explains:

“Truancy court is a no-nonsense year-old partnership between the Mesa Public Schools Safety and Security Department and East Valley justice of the peace courts … . Mesa, the largest school district in the state, has a long history of being the toughest on truants.”

Truancy is certainly a problem, but the story reminded me that having a criminal conviction may be a problem too. In fact, the “criminalizing” of youth behavior has grown so pervasive that it’s now got a label: The School to Prison Pipeline. And as we might guess, it most affects students who are poor or of color, or often both.

Justice of the Peace Dan Dodge talks to a woman and her daughter about truancy during a hearing at Highland Justice Court in Gilbert. (Deirdre Hamill/The Arizona Republic)

Have any lawyers had experience with this approach, in Mesa or elsewhere? As the steps toward a conviction escalate, are the students provided counsel? (Likely not, given the absence of jail time that is possible.) Are the juveniles advised of the meaning of accepting (or having imposed) a misdemeanor conviction? Do they have an inkling of how it will affect job and other opportunities, when they must indicate that they have been convicted of an offense?

In fact, dropping out of school is not a good thing, but could it ever be the better course? For those who are old enough to drop out of high school, could it be preferable to do that just before a conviction is levied? After all, a person may always go back and earn a GED. But you may never undo the conviction.

What do you think?