Monday, January 10, 2011

Mounting school arrests, more school police criminalizing youth misbehavior

I received this press release today via email from Texas Appleseed:
Class C Ticketing, Arrest of Youth at School is Introducing Thousands to Justice System, Says New Appleseed Report
Schools Should Follow Lead of Juvenile Justice Agencies: Restrict Pepper Spray, Taser Use

Austin, TX. – A growing police presence in Texas public schools is coinciding with increased Class C misdemeanor ticketing and arrest of students for low-level, non-violent behavior that historically has been handled at the school level – sending more youth to court and increasing their chances of academic failure and future justice system involvement, according to the third in a series of reports on Texas’ “school-to-prison pipeline” released today by the public interest law center Texas Appleseed.  [Link: Report , see Executive Summary for findings/recommendations.]

“We are strongly recommending that Chapter 37 of the Education Code be amended to eliminate Disruption of Class and Disruption of Transportation as penal code offenses for which students can be ticketed, and to clarify that arrest of students be a last resort reserved for behavioral incidents involving weapons and threatening safety.  This would go a long way toward helping check the move of student discipline from schools to the courthouse,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.  The increase in ticketing comes at a time when overall juvenile crime rates are low, she said.

Also of major concern is the broad discretion given to school police officers to use pepper spray, Tasers and other types of force – and the lack of transparency around some schools’ “use of force” policies, Fowler said.  “These types of force have been shown to cause physical and psychological harm to adults, and the impact on children can be even more devastating,” she said. While many school districts make their use of force policies publicly available, others have sought and used an Attorney General’s decision to keep such policies from parents and the public. Texas Appleseed filed suit last year against San Antonio ISD and Spring Branch ISD to compel full disclosure.

“School-based policing is one of the fastest growing areas of law enforcement,” Fowler said, “yet  school police officers receive little training specific to child development or working in school environments, and there is little to no review of ticketing and arrest practices at the school level to determine their impact and effectiveness in improving student behavior and no required reporting of this data to the Texas Education Agency.”  A body of research across the country indicates that Positive Behavioral Support programs in schools are much more effective in improving behavior, school climate and campus safety, she said.  Last month, New York City became the latest to require its school police department to provide data on student arrest and ticketing in response to growing concern about using this approach to address low-level student misbehavior.

Based on 2009 data from the Texas Office of Court Administration, it appears that at least 275,000 Class C tickets were issued that year for offenses most commonly associated with school-based misbehavior, but poor recordkeeping and reporting makes it impossible to point to a definitive number,” Fowler said.  In response to Texas Appleseed’s open records request to the 167 Texas school districts with stand-alone police departments, only 22 districts and four court jurisdictions provided 2006-07 ticketing data – representing almost a quarter of Texas’ students.  These districts issued close to 32,000 tickets that year, with the greatest number reported in Houston ISD, 4,828; Dallas ISD, 4,402; San Antonio ISD, 3,760; Brownsville ISD, 2,856; and Austin ISD, 2,653.  Districts with the highest ticketing rate (per student population) that year were Galveston ISD, 11%; San Antonio, Somerville and Waco ISDs, 7%; and Brownsville and East Central ISD, 6%.

Juvenile justice officials told Texas Appleseed that a large percentage of their referrals result from school-based arrests, Fowler said.  In the 17 districts providing 2006-07 arrest data to Texas Appleseed (accounting for 13 percent of the state’s total enrollment that year), 7,100 students were arrested.  The state’s two largest districts with stand-alone police departments, Dallas and Houston ISDs, could not provide any requested student arrest data.

The data that Texas Appleseed collected reflects these important trends:
  • Most Class C misdemeanor tickets written by school police officers are for low-level, non-violent misbehavior that do not involve weapons, yet ticketing can have far-reaching financial and legal impacts.  Fines and costs associated with Class C tickets, reported to Texas Appleseed by municipal courts, range from less than $60 to more than $500 per ticket.  Failure to pay the fine, complete court-ordered community service or comply with a notice to appear in court can result in the youth’s arrest at age 17.  African American and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected by this practice, and the ACLU of Texas recently filed suit against Hidalgo County after discovering hundreds of teens had been jailed for unpaid truancy tickets issued years earlier.  While a new state law (SB 1056, 2009) mandates criminal courts (including municipal and justice courts handling Class C tickets) immediately issue a nondisclosure order upon the conviction of a child for a misdemeanor offense punishable by fine only, the large volume of these cases has created a huge backlog, resulting in Class C misdemeanors remaining on a youth’s “criminal record” accessible by future employers and others.
  • Ticketing has increased substantially over a two- to five-year period, and where the child attends school – and not the nature of the offense – is the greater predictor of whether a child will be ticketed at school.  Twenty-two of the 26 school districts or jurisdictions supplying ticketing data reported an increase in the number of tickets issued at school.
  • African American and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic students are disproportionately represented in Class C misdemeanor ticketing in Texas schools.  Of the 15 districts that could disaggregate ticketing data by race and ethnicity, 11 disproportionately ticketed African American students compared to their percentage of the total student population in 2006-07.   In the most recent year for which ticketing data is available, these districts reported ticketing African American students at a rate double their representation in the student body: Austin ISD, Dallas ISD, Humble ISD, Katy ISD, and San Antonio ISD.
  • It is not unusual for elementary school-age children, including students 10 years old and younger, to receive Class C tickets at school—and data indicates students as young as six have been ticketed.  More than 1,000 tickets were issued to elementary school children for a six-year period in those districts for which we have data. 
RELATED: From the Texas Tribune, "More kids go to court for classroom misbehavior." See also Paul Kennedy's recent musings on the subject.


Don Dickson said...

This whole business, let alone the upward trend in it, just leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment and shaking it in hopelessness.

I represented a middle school girl in Austin some years ago who was charged with a felony - a FELONY! - for pushing another girl in the cafeteria. My 7th grade client was already close to 200 lbs. I suggested that her behavioral problems might have a dietary component. Come-to-find-out the school district had a police department but didn't have a dietician. When I was a kid my school district had a dietician but not a police department.

The news that parents and school officials are now counting increasingly on law enforcement to handle classroom behavioral issues just leaves me with a sense of utter hopelessness for our nation's future.

Anonymous said...

Handle problems in school. Get good teachers....make administrators back up the teachers. Make parents follow up and be responsible adults. Close TYC.

Anonymous said...


"The news that parents and school officials are now counting increasingly on law enforcement to handle classroom behavioral issues just leaves me with a sense of utter hopelessness for our nation's future."

And why is it you suppose that parents and schools count on law enforcement? Is it because school officials are concerned with liability for school imposed discipline?

I don't know so I'm asking.

William said...

It's not a bad idea to have a small police presence at the school. The problem occurs when we have police that are not trained to operate in a school environment.

I believe that in order to be assigned to a school environment they should be required to have additional training in child psychology. In addition there should be a review process before the police are allowed to ticket the child. This could include a small board consisting of the officer, an administrator, and a child psychologist, or counselor to determine if ticketing the child would be the best answer.

I know it is not perfect, but it is something we can start with to help prevent over-reactions. In a lot of these cases the police officer does not take into consideration that the person they are ticketing is a child. They treat them like an adult. We have enough problems making adults act like adults.

Anonymous said...

In the 1980's, when juvenile crime was on the upswing there were no cops at any of my urban schools in Houston ISD. Somehow we managed not to kill each other. Boys had fights, girls had WORSE fights, and everyone was handled by the Assistant Principal (a thankless job if there ever was one) who, usually, was a failed football coach. "Pops" with a paddle, anyone?

The very idea that, short of assault or weapon use, that kids need to be arrested and put in the system is, bluntly, stupid. Of course, given the caliber of the morons now running Texas nothing is surprising anymore.

Anonymous said...

Ditto 2:01

Daingerfield, TX Class of the 70's

Lavelle said...

Compulsory school attendance is immoral as it is. I had no idea police officers could ticket little kids. I honestly don't know why parents put up with this.

rodsmith said...

must be some wimpy kids in texas schools. back when i went to school in the rough schools of the 70's in baltimore and detroit...if we'd have seen some flunky cop come in and assault another kid with a taser or some of the other stuff they use now...they woudln't have gotten out of the school in one piece! and i'm talkiing schools that were so bad one of them had the city police headquaters IN the school.

Angee said...

Zero tolerance sucks. Counselors are paid to have tolerance on non-violent issues. Maybe guidance is a better word. Isn't that a part of teaching?

Anonymous said...

Why the cops in school Anon 12:39? it's not liability, it's the attitude that some administrators; they have a hammer available (the school resource officer/cop) so all problems look like a nail. Good administrators understand how to deal with these problems but 1) too many APs are mediocre bureaucrats (at best) and 2) they have moved up and influence district policy. Know of one who brings his naval reserve petty officer disciplinary experiences to the school - and thinks they are appropriate for 15 year olds.

Bad news folks. The colleges of America aren't getting the best and brightest entering their education departments...and that carries over to the AP's office.:~)

Anonymous said...

When I was in school, we had this old codger with bad knees who chased us around the campus in a golf cart. If we got caught (usually for smoking or sparking some chick in the bushes), we did the walk of shame to the principal's office and then got suspended. Being home with an irate mother all day, waiting for dad -gulp!- to come home was punishment enough. If some asshole tased my kid for fighting, smoking, or smooching, I'd be after his balls.

Anonymous said...

"Good administrators understand how to deal with these problems but"

Ok 10:38, how does a good administrator deal with these problems? Cite some examples.

Anonymous said...

I knew Texas schools had gotten out of hand with the ticketing by in-school officers, but honestly..I didn't realize it had become this bad. Thank God my kids are out of school now, but I worry about any future grandkids. Makes me want to move to another state.

Anonymous said...

On the racial disproportion of the ticketing, is this due to the war on minorities over the last 2 decades masquerading as the war on drugs or is this because the black kids are more out of control? As a data person it’s difficult to know given the racist history of the state combined with the glorification of uncivilized behavior in the black culture. I think any intelligent explanation of the data would be flawed given the social dynamics of the times. Attempting to resolve some truths can get you labeled a racist while avoiding them can generate a larger police presents in some schools.

Anonymous said...

The dispropotionate ticketing / incarceration of minorities can't be disputed. The question is, why. The topic of discussion is a minefield and whites have to proceed with caution or risk being labeled a racist.

However, I am sure if you visited with teachers and administrators, they would be offended at the notion that disciplinary policies are based on prejudice.

I visited with a teacher today that told me they have been told that they send too many blacks to the AEP. Forget the fact that the school has a large black student body. She stated that black students have been given alternatives to AEP when white students are referred to the AEP for the exact same offense. This campus has a black principal and a black vice principal. Race is hardly the motivation behind the placements.

Anonymous said...

Some people are embarrassed that the US has the lowest academic performance of any of the developed or partially developed countries. They don't like it that about half of the black and Hispanic students choose to drop out. So, they try to force students to attend school and try to force them to learn.

The more the school administrators try, the more the students resist. It becomes a tug-of-war which wears everyone out. The political opportunists are quick to condemn any attempts to lower the drop-out rate or raise academic performance. Their favorite tactic is to use the race card.

Anonymous said...

The city of Round Rock has decided that all kids are guilty of something. Simple issues that could be resolved are now involving the police.The Williamson county "kill um all" attitude
is now focused on your children!

heatherhuey said...

I was President of my class, cheerleader, and on the debate and tennis team never tried drugs in my life. One day i sprained my ankle and my grandmother gave me a pain med to deal with the pain till she could take me to the doctor. I was caught with that one pill and because i didnt check it in with the nurse i was charged with a FELONY.
I was sent to DCJJAEP were i was beaten up for being caucasian everyday till my probation officer decided it was too dangerous for a young girl like me. Then put me in a 7 month REHAB which i obviously had no problem finishing, and now I can't find a professional career even after i recieved my college deploma, I cannot find a place to live with this criminal background. And also during this time i was introduced to "new friends" which introduced me to marijuana and attempted to get me to try other drugs.
This has set me back in my life dramatically, in so many ways. I will never reach my full potential Thanks to Dallas County.