"You're expected to be in school," Small said.
But that didn't happen, and three weeks later, on Sept. 19, Small convened a 90-minute "truancy hearing" that brought Alex and his family together with his teachers, as well as local and regional school authorities.
Sitting on plastic chairs in a school meeting room, they crafted a transition plan to ease Alex back into classes starting with just a few hours a day.
"I think I can do it," Alex said at the end of the hearing.
A court order
Alex did go to school the next morning. But not the next day, or the next.
A week later, Small referred the case to the LaSalle County state's attorney's office, which filed a juvenile court petition that can enable a judge to order counseling or other supportive services for a truant youth and his family, as well as fines and other sanctions.
It was the eighth such truancy case sent to local prosecutors since January, all of them middle-schoolers, according to prosecutor Vicki Denny. The court intervention doesn't always work, but in most cases "it does hit home," Denny said.
On Oct. 23, Alex and his parents sat before Judge Daniel Bute. With law books and the state seal gracing the wood-paneled courtroom walls behind him, Bute gazed down on the shaggy-haired 12-year-old.
"Alejandro! Pay attention," Bute began. "We find that you are a truant. ... Here's how this works in my courtroom."
Alex was either going to return to his current school, Bute said, "or you are going to school in the detention home. We have a great teacher there."
Bute asked if Alex had any questions, but the boy was silent, his head bent toward his folded hands.
"Just so we understand each other, you're going to school one way or the other."
In minutes, the hearing was over. In the lobby afterward, Alex's mother seemed breathless and stunned as she studied the two-page court order with Bute's signature.
Small rushed over to the family. "Are you ready to do this?" she asked Alex. He didn't answer.
She said he could earn a small iTunes gift card if he went to school every day that week.
"I will take the bus," Alex said quietly.
"That shows maturity — that shows you are stepping up now," Small said. "Because, trust me, today is the day you've got to step up."
Carmen Frausto began to sob.
"All of us," Small said. "Now is the time to step up."