The parents of students at a Houston middle school who tell teachers the dog ate their homework or the cat ripped it up are getting an unusual response: Tell it to the judge.

At Houston's North Shore Middle School, the parents of students who habitually fail to complete their homework and miss a mandatory after-school program are being summoned to court, school officials said today.

The school this week issued 48 misdemeanor criminal citations, similar in severity to a traffic ticket, to those students' parents. Each ticket, which could have yielded a fine of up to $185, required parents to appear on Wednesday before Harris County Justice of the Peace Mike Parrott.

Parrott did not fine anyone, but used the session to set an example and explain the importance of finishing schoolwork, he said.

Galena Park Independent School District spokeswoman Staci Stanfield said the tickets actually are for failing to attend the mandatory after-school program for habitual homework offenders.

"We are issuing citations because students are not attending school. We are not issuing citations for not doing homework," Stanfield said.

Parrott said even though it is a truancy violation being ticketed, the purpose of bringing the charges in conjunction with the after-school program is to make sure students complete their assignments.

Students are supposed to finish the missing homework at the after-school session, which is considered part of the regular school day and subject to truancy laws under the Texas Education Code, he said. Students are referred to the program by their teachers.

Stanfield said the program, unique to North Shore Middle School, was explained to parents at the start of the school year. Before the citations are issued, parents are supposed to have been notified by letter that their child was required to attend the after-school session.

Parrott said a lot of parents did not get the letter because the students were entrusted with taking the notices home.

Since Texas school districts are their own separate taxing entities, they have powers not unlike a county or city government, such as the right to issue criminal citations.

As for whether he will be issuing fines when cases are referred to him in the future, Parrott said, "There is no doubt, the next time up."