Friday, May 06, 2011

AG says government needn't tell public when it will use force on their children

Texas Appleseed is suing to force school districts to make their use of force policies public, according to an op-ed by boardmember Scott Fletcher in the San Antonio Express News, which opens:
Until an incident happens at school, most parents of school-age children are unaware that school police officers in many Texas school districts can use pepper spray or a Taser to break up a student fight or get control of a behavioral incident at school.

When it does happen, many parents are shocked that school police officers would use the same tools to subdue students as they would suspects in a street crime. However, not every school district in Texas will share its “use of force” policy with parents — and the public interest law center Texas Appleseed is going to court to change that.

At the heart of the issue is parents' right to know what types of force could potentially be used by officers at school and to have an opportunity to shape that policy, which can vary widely among school districts. Some districts allow police officers to use Tasers, pepper spray, trained dogs, batons and certain types of restraints, and others prohibit some or all of these options.

As a growing number of media headlines attest, pepper spray and Tasers are finding their way into our public schools. Yet, there are documented risks associated with using them on children, particularly those with asthma or other health conditions. When applied in a school setting, pepper spray has been known to cause severe reactions, in one instance sending several Texas students (including innocent bystanders) to a hospital after the officer's pepper spray got into the school ventilation system.

Fortunately, the majority of Texas school districts asked to produce their “use of force” policies did so — and some even posted them on their school websites. Others like San Antonio, Spring Branch and Galveston ISDs are doing their best to keep their “use of force” policies secret.

Next week, attorneys for Texas Appleseed will ask a San Antonio court for summary judgment in a suit to protect parents' right to know the types of force that San Antonio ISD police officers can use against students. A similar suit has been filed in regards to the Spring Branch ISD.
IMO the Attorney General is dead wrong that the law-enforcement exception to the Public Information Act applies to these policies. He's supposed to construe exceptions to the act narrowly, while this interpretation stretches the exception beyond credulity. San Antonio ISD is afraid releasing the information would "tip its hand to disruptive students and outsiders looking to evade police action on campus." But if the Texas Youth Commission can operate with its use of force policies public, the risk to schools is minimal. Indeed, TYC's example shows exactly why such policies should be made public: Otherwise, no one can tell whether they comply with state and federal law, court precedents, etc..

Relatedly, during his first term or so, I praised Greg Abbott's open records division for consistently fighting for transparency. But increasingly I'm seeing opinions like this one, particularly related to the law-enforcement exception, where the AG appears to be looking for excuses to close records instead of defending Texas' tradition of openness, which is his statutory charge under the Public Information Act. Rulings like this one make a joke of the preamble to the Public Information Act, which contains the high-minded and oft-ignored assertion that: "The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.  The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created."

Use of force, particularly involving Tasers or pepper spray, constitutes a physical attack, and when government won't even reveal to its citizens its policies on when it can attack their children, the public has indeed lost control over the instruments of government it has created.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would you even have police in your schools?
To me that seems to be absurd.
Only Americans would voluntarily give power over their kids lives to the kind of person commonly found wearing a police uniform, let alone the mouth breathers which end up doing so in a school.

Anonymous said...

Appleseed Centers are active in promoting immigrants' rights. Opposing laws that would deny rights to immigrants is a top priority.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Texas Youth Commission is more humane then some school districts. TYC maintains a no spray list to identify those youth who are medically fragile and should not be srayed. Parents are also notified of the full use of force policy.

Ham2mtr

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:25, focus, please. What does immigration have to do with when the government can use a Taser on your kid?

Ham2mtr, you're 100% right, TYC's policy is more humane, which is probably why the districts won't release theirs. Who wants to tell parents their kids are more likely to be pepper sprayed at school than if they're sent to a youth prison?

Anonymous said...

School districts are not humane? The violent culture of the community seeps into the school creating tremendous pressure for everyone.

Some say it's simple - just blame the teachers and school administrators.

rodsmith said...

all i know is anyone dumb enough to use quazi-swat team tactics on my child in a school setting had better get to the nearest national border before i catch them... right along with whatever idiot school board idiot who authoreized it!

Anonymous said...

Here's to hoping the Legislature passes the "loser pays" litigation reforms. There's no telling how many tax dollars are wasted every year defending these vexatious suits file by Appleseed, the ACLU, and other such "public policy" advocacy groups. What a joke! If parents would do their jobs at home, there would be no need for school cops and "use of force" policies. This kind of crap is a direct result of the prohibition of corporal punishment. All of this touchy feely moral relativism is causing this country to go to hell.

Anonymous said...

Well, it is interesting that they won't release their policies.

Use of force should be directly proportional to resistance.

For instance, if two young men walk into a school and begin killing students with guns and knifes.... Well, that would be an issue where I would want police to enter the school and kill or capture the offenders where my child attends.

However, if a youth threatens a teacher and is not being entirely aqueousant when ordered to leave the classroom, then perhaps a simple "come along" hold would be needed.

I think that it would be fine to release use of force policy unless you are speaking about tactics used when a deadly incident occurs. For instance, the fact that an assistant principal will call out the phrase, "Will King Kuppa report to the office" (just an example) when there is an active shooter situation should be a secret of the school district so that offenders cannot counteract the warnings.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4:20, get over yourself. Nobody said "school districts are not humane," just that TYC's use of force policies are objectively more humane than those of schools that allow pepper spraying or Taser students. Why not release the policies? Why shouldn't parents know when schools will Taser their kids?

7:00, Appleseed has a pretty good win-loss record in these matters. They don't sue unless they're on pretty solid ground. I don't think the loser-pays aspect would affect them much at all.

zoltankemeny said...

"If parents would do their jobs at home, there would be no need for school cops and "use of force" policies."

Like the parents who do their jobs yet their innocent bystander children get sent to the hospital due to pepper spray getting into the school ventilation system?

Anonymous said...

Police Departments make it fairly clear what they will do reacting to typical or normal situations in the general public arena. Why then will Schools not do the same for incidents that could occur under their roof?

Pepper spray is nasty stuff, no doubt about it. Working in youth corrections many years ago, we had to be very careful on its use and residual effects. It isn't solely the intended targets who suffers the effects. There are some forms of asthma that will react violently with the use of OC, endangering the life of the person.

Back to the first comment, It is a shame that we have to have cops in school in the US, I agree. however, due to poor parenting and the perception of youth regarding responsibility and maturity, it is no wonder why we have them. US Parents in general have gotten into the assumption that their kids should be allowed to do whatever they want, and now we get to reap the rewards of this enabling thought process.

Anonymous said...

Out-of-control 'tough' guy cops, yet another violation of our rights. Add it to the list of gov’t violations of our right:
They violate the 1st Amendment by placing protesters in cages, banning books like “America Deceived II” and censoring the internet.
They violate the 2nd Amendment by confiscating guns.
They violate the 4th and 5th Amendment by molesting airline passengers.
They violate the entire Constitution by starting undeclared wars for foreign countries.
Impeach Obama and sweep out the Congress.
(Last link of Banned Book):
http://www.iuniverse.com/Bookstore/BookDetail.aspx?BookId=SKU-000190526

Thebes said...

Gotta teach the kiddies early on that they live in a Police State.