Friday, April 30, 2010

Prosecution for school graffiti critiqued at senate hearing

There's not much MSM news out there from yesterday's Senate Criminal Justice Committee meeting (see the archived broadcast), but Odessa TV station KOSA had coverage of one of its locals who came to Austin to speak with them about school discipline.
As students across Texas are being criminally charged for drawing on school property, some state leaders are taking notice. Now, the “zero tolerance policy” is wearing on the patience of a state senator and some parents.

Puppy Dogs, butterflies and hearts: They can all get your child charged with a state jail felony if they're written on school property. 
 It's part of a statewide zero tolerance policy that mandates punishments regardless of the circumstances surrounding an incident. 
 And now it's drawing criticism at the State Capitol.

"We had examples today of kids six year old getting a citation - 10 years old getting a ticket written for disrupting the class. I don't know what that accomplishers", says State Senator, John Whitmire.

Senator John Whitmire led a senate criminal justice committee meeting today in Austin, where a father testified to his personal story. His child was handcuffed and booked on criminal charges after being accused of drawing on a bathroom wall.

"Graffiti that would reflect gang activity is much more severe than some student drawing a heart for her boyfriend", says Whitmire.

A 12-year-old New York girl was cuffed and arrested after writing on her desk with an erasable marker earlier this year. She's now suing the city authorities for a million dollars. 
In March, an ECISD student was charged after marking a piece of lab equipment, considered school property.

"It should all depend on what they wrote on there. Schools should give them detention or a referral or something", says Odessan, David Leyva.

"Most of the bathroom stalls are filled up", says 8th grader, Ryan Garcia.

Senator Whitmire questions the “no exception” style policy.

"Some of the school districts are writing hundreds and thousands of tickets each year and I'm concerned that some of it may be about raising revenue, instead of protecting our classrooms", he says.

"I don't think it's fair at all, as far as kids not knowing the severity of the situation", says Odessan, Shawn Hale.

Whitmire isn't calling for a law change just yet, but he is hoping for a little discretion.

"I'm just calling for common sense, people to use good judgment".

Whitmire says another meeting at the Capitol will be scheduled to hear more testimony and further discuss this issue in the near future.


machine said...

Zero tollerance pollicies are getting out of control...They are NOT a resolve to our problems!

When will we learn...CORRECTION... When will we ADMIT that many of our laws actually create the crime? Which in turn forces us to create unecessary punishments...Punishments that are UNjust.

What is happening to us Americans?

Why are we so full of fear and ignorance?

Why do we continue to react impulsively towards our social issues?

Why have we become so...bubble wrapped?

Anonymous said...

Four very good questions Machine.
I wish I could give you answers that could pinpoint specific events that have brought us here, but the more I think about it the more I come to the conclusion that the answers are as follows.
What is happening to us Americans? Nothing.
Why are we so full of fear and ignorance? We have always been, the only thing that changes are who or what we fear and the level of ignorance which periodically peaks and lulls.
Why do we continue to react impulsively towards our social issues? We always have.
Why have we become so...bubble wrapped? We are no more or less “bubble wrapped” than we have been before.

It's our own fault. The more we demand to be protected from the Demon of the Day, the more laws we allow to be enacted, the closer we come to becoming exactly like our ancestors who burned witches at the stake to protect ourselves from the “evils” of the world until we find ourselves caught up in the very same accusations. Then we scream about the injustice of the laws we were so in favor of until they came to roost at our doors.

Nothing new here and little changing. It seems that for every law that we later find to be unconstitutional or just wrong, we enact another dozen just as bad but slightly different.

Anonymous said...


It's because of lack of:

discipline at home
not spending quality time @ home with children
not being involved in your childs schoolwork
not being involved with the local school system until the child gets in trouble

Forget math, science, history. Start teaching respect and morals.

Some of you are going to wake up one day and ask "where have all the teachers gone" because they are leaving the profession each day because of the lack of respect, morals and discipline that so many do not exhibit.

I don't like zero tolerance policies because they do not leave room for progressive discipline.

It is not up to government or a pandering politician to fix the discipline problems in school or in a home, but rather parents.

To believe or vote for a politician who says he can fix these problems is believing he/she can solve the family and social ills of our state and nation.

Discipline must begin at home, not at school. Without discipline at home, discipline at school is a certain to fail.

R. Shackleford said...

Anny 9:00 is dead right. A dubious "security" in exchange for freedom. Few people care (or even bother to learn) what and how many new laws are passed each year, until they personally get bit in the ass by one.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:14,
I guess one could look at it like that. I can't argue that a good number of parents shouldn't be given the responsibility of raising a gerbil let alone a child, but yet it's just too easy to blame a lack of whatever you think should go on in the home on the effects of a zero tolerance policy.

The policy is responsible for honor students being expelled for stupid things like carrying Midol. It killed a 11 year old who couldn't carry his asthma medication.

The point you seem to be missing, or ignoring is that good kids are being caught in these zero intelligence rules and instead of detention they are getting criminal records.

Give your kid a strange haircut and watch him get suspended.

Or don't cut his hair and see what happens. Texas, of course.

For goodness sakes, don't fart in class.

Forget the “C” word, now you get suspended for saying the anatomically correct word vagina.

Vagina, vagina, vagina. Forget my permanent record, I'm gonna end up in handcuffs.

Leave your G I Joe miniature gun at home, don't barf on the teacher, bring scissors to your sewing class, play cops & robbers, have a food fight or bring your eyelash curler to school. Given that this is the results of a few minute search, I could go on and on and on and on if I were to make a pot of coffee and stay at it all night. Grits would probably get cranky with me.

In case you haven't caught my drift here, it's not about discipline in the home, it's about extreme stupidity in the schools and the criminalization of our children for being children. None of these responses correct behavior or build character. They destroy young lives. All those lovely things you list don't mean a thing. The majority of parents already practice them. The problem is that while we insist that our children be children, when they act like children they are being treated like adult criminals. As for without discipline at home it'll fail at school, how do you explain all the children who come from homes with all those qualities you list who go on to be the equivalent of ax murderers and all those children who's parents are neglectful degenerates who go on to be lovely human beings? It just isn't that simple.

Anonymous said...

7:31 I do not seek perfection in an imperefct world. Kids just seem to do better in a home with love and discipline.

You and I are the problem. But the one thing we don't seem to remember is we are the solution too. Not some politician, not some school board.

Massachussettes passed an anti-bullying law today that seems to go to far. We need a lege to take care of something parents should be taking care of?

as for your comment "The problem is that while we insist that our children be children, when they act like children they are being treated like adult criminals", maybe you and me and a lot others allowed it to happen because we sit on our asses and don't get involved until it affects us.

I suppose you are against using a paddle on a kids butt. BTW, my generation did not turn out a bunch of ax murderers as a result of being paddled in the 50's, 60's and 70's.

In my school days, events as you described would have beeen taken care of on the spot at school with a board and reinforced that evening at home. You got a problem with that?

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:27,

First of all, I've not been personally affected by this policy. My child is grown but that hasn't stopped me from voicing my opinion against the policy with everyone from teachers I personally know to the school board members to our alderman and state senator. I have been opposed to zero tolerance since it was first proposed. What have you done in your community to fight against this policy?

I have no problem with bringing back the school disciplinarian, detention and keeping matters like these within the school system and out of the criminal system. I wonder what I wrote that would make you think otherwise. If anything, my examples illustrate a part of the problem, the stupidity of those who run our schools and the ultimate lack of common sense used in disciplinary issues. It doesn't help either that one can end up in jail for spanking their own child or an even deeper hell if they are reported to CPS for it. What does it say about our society when parents are afraid to discipline a child for fear of such consequences? The parent is in a damned if you do and damned if you don't position in today's society. You are expected to control your child, then risk ending up in court if you do and it involves spanking or if you don't and the child gets in trouble.

By the way, the 50's, 60's and 70's turned out it's fair share of ax murderers and the like who spanked or not, came from what were considered to be “good” families and with “normal” siblings who shared the same upbringing. I never said spanking equals abuse and creates ax murderers. I said that “good” families with all those attributes you list are equally capable of turning out “bad” people. Just as families in which neglect and abuse happen are capable of turning out “good” people.

The subject is how these policies affect our children, but since you've brought up respect, morals, discipline and teachers in the same sentence, what are we teaching our children when the teachers lack these qualities? Perhaps we should also be looking more closely at the numbers of teachers in this country who have been busted for everything from sex with their students, drug use and sales, theft, battery, assault, kiddie porn and one of my favorites, stealing school lunches. And let's not forget the number of teachers with criminal records. We have teachers who swear in the halls, teachers whose command of the English language is minimal. Perhaps we shouldn't be holding children to so high a standard when we hold teachers to one so low. Like I said, it just isn't as easy as laying the blame on parents and what you would call a lack of discipline in the home. The issues are complex and while I am completely familiar with the “board” you reference having gotten the majority of my education from nuns who knew how to wield a wicked ruler, I firmly believe that spanking belongs under the jurisdiction of the parent and has no place in the schools. A simple Google search with the two little words “teacher arrested” is more than enough explanation for that belief.

Pam Lakatos said...

I have dealt with school districts for years and have been appalled at the progressive draconian discipline inflicted on children. School districts have too much discretion and too much power. When it was originally given to them it was with reassurances that it would not be abused and that common sense would be the guiding principle.
I continually urge anyone who will listen to contact their representatives about putting some limits on what school districts can do regarding infractions of school rules or alleged violations of criminal law.
Just recently three young children, 9 and 10 year olds, snuck out of their homes and went to the school playground across the street and shot at each other with paint guns. (The kind which uses very small pellets) When they returned home and were confronted by their parents they confessed. The parents went to the school and attempted to clean up all the paint. They missed some.
The next day several students, using a slide, got some paint on their clothes. The school called Hazmat which verified it was paint. The young ones confessed and the parents tried to right the wrong. The school, in its infinite wisdom, declared the young ones a threat to the student body, sent all three to Alternative School for the rest of the semester. They tried to get the kids charged criminally but fortunately the local police used their common sense. (Only the 10 year old could be legally charged and the officer determined there was no criminal intent.)
Now all three kids have this following them for the rest of their school days. How many of you think there will not be any adverse repercussions on these young people?
As for students charged with a crime by a police agency, it makes no difference if the charge is valid or if the Grand Jury no bills the case or even if there is a Not Guilty verdict. The school still steps in and wields its mighty hammer- (“out of an abundance of caution”).
Zero Tolerance policies are nothing more than an abdication of accountability and a shield for complete abuses of power.
Schools should be in the business of educating. That includes living by example, exercising common sense and acting with thoughtful consideration.
(BTW-before anyone accuses me of being unaware of what teachers and administrators face each day, in the early 90’s I suspended my full time criminal law practice to teach middle school students for a couple of years. I was certified to teach when I graduated undergraduate school and have maintained it since. What the rank and file do every day in the classroom is amazing. They are not the problem.)
Sorry for the length of this but this issue is one of my passions. Thanks for bringing light to the problem.