DENVER (CBS4) – A state lawmaker says it’s time Colorado stopped jailing children for skipping school.

Sen. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, is introducing legislation aimed at decriminalizing truancy. Currently, when children cut classes a school can send them to court where they are ordered back to school. When they don’t go they’re found in contempt of court and ordered to jail.

While it’s not tracked statewide, in some districts child advocates say more than 50 students a week are being referred to court. Sonny Avants, 16, of Littleton is among them. His mother, Amy Avants, said when she first learned he was cutting classes she was angry.

“I was really mad at first because, ‘Why won’t you do what you’re supposed to do? Why are you being defiant?’ ” she said.

Then she said her son confided that he has a learning disability. So when he couldn’t keep up, he dropped out.

“I was frustrated with it. I wasn’t getting any of what they were teaching me. So I stopped going,” Sonny Avants said.

The school sent him to court.

“That should not happen,” Holbert said. “Sending kids to jail — juvenile detention — for nothing more than truancy just didn’t make sense. When a student is referred to juvenile detention, he or she is co-mingling with criminals — juveniles who’ve committed theft or assault or drug dealing.”

Sonny Avants now takes classes online (credit: CBS)

Sonny Avants now takes classes online (credit: CBS)

Under Holbert’s bill kids like Sonny, who’s now enrolled in online school, would be referred to a new administrative law judge — a judge who couldn’t send them to jail but rather would connect them with services.

Holbert said his hope is to get at the causes of truancy, which can range from a kid who has to support his family to one who is being bullied.

“I’m really excited about it, to be honest, because these kids, not just mine, but every single one that’s out there, deserve an education,” Amy Avants said.

Holbert is a Republican. His co-sponsor in the House is Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat.

– Written by Shaun Boyd for CBSDenver.com

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