Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lege reexamining Class C tickets in lieu of school discipline, quality

Scaling back ticketing by law enforcement in lieu of traditional school discipline was a big topic of discussion at the Texas Lege this week, with quite a bit of legislation in play in both chambers. On the House side, state Rep. Helen Giddings has an editorial yesterday in the Houston Chronicle about legislation that heard this week in the House Public Education Committee. The op/ed opens:
Imagine a child as young as six years old arrested for disrupting class. It seems like an unlikely scenario, but it is happening in Texas classrooms and these are not just for extreme, violent circumstances. Most arrests are for nonviolent disorderly conduct offenses.

The number of Texas children receiving Class C misdemeanors is alarming. According to Texas Appleseed data, in just 26 districts, 31,850 students received Class C misdemeanor tickets from 2006 to 2007. By now many have heard of the 12-year-old special-needs student in Austin ticketed for disrupting class for applying perfume after her peers told her she stank. In addition, data suggests that vulnerable groups like special-needs children are unfairly overrepresented in ticketing. African-Americans, and to some degree Hispanics, are also disproportionately represented in ticketing and arrests. Some districts reported African-Americans received double the percentage of tickets compared to their representation in the total student body. I agree with Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who said, "More than 80 percent of adult prison inmates are school dropouts. Charging kids with criminal offenses for low-level behavioral issues exacerbates the problem."

Gone are the days when children were sent to the principal for behavior such as using profanity in class. Today, the courthouse has become the alternative for Texas students who misbehave in school. This early exposure to the criminal court system can have lasting negative effects on young children, who may develop an unhealthy fear of police. Those who enter guilty pleas in municipal and juvenile justice courts end up having criminal records. In those instances when charged, their parents can pay from $60 to $500 in fines. In the case of multiple citations, the costs can be even higher. As many understand, if an adult is not able to afford an attorney in a criminal proceeding, an attorney will be appointed. This is not the case, however, for children in juvenile criminal proceedings. Parents are incurring additional costs to defend their children. These offenses are also expending resources and taxing the criminal justice system. In a time of limited resources and budget cuts, the state should not be wasting time and money. The state's resources could be better spent on adequately funding education.
The column closes:
House Bill 3758, which is being heard in the House Public Education Committee today [ed. note: yesterday, April 19], will prohibit the issuance of certain Class C misdemeanor citations to children who are 12 years old or younger. Children 12 and younger, whose behavior is nonviolent, nonsexual and nonharassing, should be dealt with in schools with behavior modification and not in the criminal justice system. We must find a way for zero tolerance to meet with common sense for the sake of Texas children.
That makes plenty of sense. Hell, children under 10 can't even be charged with crimes, so I've never understood giving them tickets. And up to 12 years old, it's likely that giving tickets which can only be paid by parents fails to punish the child and needlessly burdens families who may already be struggling with discipline problems. Anybody who's ever raised kids know things don't always go perfectly and when kids are struggling with behavior in school it's often the case that parents are struggling with the same issues at home. Tacking on financial penalties as a first-step response in most cases only compounds the problem.

On the senate side, Sen. John Whtimire has separate legislation to scale back ticketing, SB 1116, which has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar in preparation for a floor vote. (He had an op ed on the subject earlier this spring.) Whitmire also had two bills up in committee this week related to school discipline: SB 205 which would require school harassment policies to specifically address bullying and cyberbullying, and SB 1117, which would raise the standard of culpability required to convict parents of "contributing to non-attendance" of their children at schools.

SB 205 takes on the hot button issue of bullying without forcing it through the criminal justice apparatus. The bill analysis explicitly declares that, "Texas has sufficient tools for prosecutors to pursue penal code violations, when these events rise to that level. What is lacking is a concentrated and consistent effort within our school districts to develop policies that address these events utilizing evidence-based practices." While I know that requiring additional policies at schools over the years is one of the things that contributes to bureaucratic bloat, I certainly appreciate Sen. Whitmire seeking non-criminal justice solutions to behavior problems that often can and should be handled in-school.

Whitmire's SB 1117 is a much-needed bill addressing when parents can be ticketed for their kids cutting class. According to the bill analysis, "there were 65,521 cases filed for parents contributing to nonattendance in the municipal and justice of the peace courts of the state. For every case there is a fine not to exceed $500." Whitmire's bill keeps the crime on the books, but requires the court to assess parents' intent. Again from the bill analysis: "Currently, the level of culpability is that the parent has acted 'with criminal negligence.'  S.B. 1117 amends the Education Code by raising the level of culpability such that the parent must have acted 'intentionally' in order to ensure that those receiving this penalty not only know their children are not attending school but that the parent is also influencing or causing the absences."

I find it amazing that Texas law enforcement issued 65,000+ Class C tickets last year for nonattendance at school when IMO the fault lies with schools failing to provide a product that young people value. I can think of no other business or area of government where dissatisfied customers can be arrested or fined to force them to consume services they don't want. But instead of improving schools so youth might want to go there, Texas' response to nonattendance is to criminalize students who vote with their feet and their parents who have little control over either the quality of schools nor their children's decision to play hooky. I have no way to judge the likelihood of these bills' passage, but I'm pulling for all of them.


Anonymous said...

"We must find a way for zero tolerance to meet with common sense for the sake of Texas children."

When will people finally realize that zero tolerance has nothing to do with common sense. The two are mutually exclusive.

Anonymous said...

"Gone are the days when children were sent to the principal for behavior such as using profanity in class. Today, the courthouse has become the alternative for Texas students who misbehave in school."

And who Ms. Giddings changed that?

Anonymous said...

"As many understand, if an adult is not able to afford an attorney in a criminal proceeding, an attorney will be appointed. This is not the case, however, for children in juvenile criminal proceedings."

True or false Grits?

Anonymous said...

There is an elementary school in North Richland Hills, right down the street from my house. A full-time cop is assigned to the school. I thought we were in the midst of budget shortfalls??? I mean, I can understand a full-time cop at a high school, but elementary school??? This guy is probably getting paid $50k a year to make sure 9 year-olds aren't bringing dope to school, er something he's doing that the city sees as justifying the expense. And to think, the police station itself is LESS than a mile away.

Anonymous said...

Any idea how much revenue all these tickets generated in a given year? Its a cash cow!

Robert Langham said...

Public schooling is dead and staggering around looking for a place to fall. Put the whole thing online, make attending students pay their way if they want to be baby-sat at a brick and mortar school and cut the rest of us loose from the plantation.

Anonymous said...

"Gone are the days when children were sent to the principal for behavior such as using profanity in class. Today, the courthouse has become the alternative for Texas students who misbehave in school."

Let's see... what options does the prinicipal have for disruptive behavior? Can he paddle? no. Can the child be put in the corner? no. Call the parents? odds are they will just come up to the school and cuss a blue streak at the principal (after all where do you think the kid learned to speak like that?) After school detention? no, because they have to ride the bus home and momma or daddy nor day care won't come pick them up late...

You can complain about how wrong you believe ticketing to be, but if you take away that option then what is left? Ticketing the child, is actually putting some of the responsibility of the kids behavior back on the parents.

Boswell Swift said...

There is nothing I can do to make an adult with a bad case of senioritis, who also happens to be well over six feet tall and a man when I am a 5'6" woman, go to school. I am so sick of these threats of criminal prosecution -- who thought up this terrible system? I work for a living & can't control another adult, even if he is my son. Criminalizing the skipping of school has been a real hassle for our family, ended fun family trips once high school started, & been a source of stress for me. College can't start soon enough.

Anonymous said...

Cry me a river. Kids act like their parents. YOU grow up.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

I find myself at a loss, when I was a kid if we misbehaved we were sent to the principal,where you got addressed very sternly, just having that happen was very scary. If it was serious, they would call your parents and they would have to leave work and come to the school and get you, that meant they lost some pay for leaving work which in my house bought you a good session with the belt. This thing of writing tickets completely amazes me. Parents cannot afford these monetary punishments, Dear Mrs. Johnson your son used profanity in class today please remit $500.00 for being a bad parent. Good thing they didnt try that with My Mom or Dad. It is a complete outrage that a person could come up with this thought not to mention that other people who are supposed to have viable cognitive thought processes buy into it. Have our schools become this desperate for money that we resort to basically blackmailing parents? THEY ARE CHILDREN, lets try teaching them instead of threatening them. You catch more flies with honey you know.

Anonymous said...

@ 5:31 "Have our schools become this desperate for money that we resort to basically blackmailing parents?"

Really now, do you believe that schools receive this fine money? That was a misinformed statement!

The rest of your post was spot on.

Anonymous said...

Wow this floors me. I'm not even that far out of school (I'm in my late 20s), and I can't imagine how things have gotten this far astray. When I was growing up, we generally accepted the authority from teachers and I knew of no one who thought they could, at the end of the day, get away with something like mouthing off. Kids did, off and on, of course, because we were kids and tested the bounds, but that always lead to something like pounding erasers after school, being sent to the principle, in school detention, etc. And heaven forbid the school called our parents because then we'd just get it worse when we got home. But everything was handled internally between the schools and the families. I can't imagine why law enforcement would come in and ticket a 14-year-old for dropping the "f-bomb". Or why we would punish special needs kids for, in fact, acting like special needs kids. That's why the have the classification they have: they will be a challenge. If I have kids they are going private school all of the way. This whole scenario is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

In the school where I work, ticketing is the last resort, not the first line of action. Our school handbook clearly defines what the consequences are for an infraction. Students and parents both sign a form stating they are aware of the rules and the consequences of breaking the rules. If a student gets a ticket for an offense, then he/she shouldn't be surprised. If the student is over 18 then he is responsible for the ticket, not the parent. I know it is a sad state that things have come to this (ticketing) but the state and the parents have tied the hands of the school. I have never witnessed a child getting a ticket for the "f bomb." More than likely a student who got a ticket which involved the use of profanity, it wasn't just a one time instance and there was probably aggressive behavior that accompanied the use of profanity. It is kinda like DWI's. A person doesn't go to prison the first time he gets a DWI. But after the third time, it becomes obvious that the current methods of deterrant are not being effective so incarceration becomes an option.

To the mom who doesn't feel like she can force her son to school... if you can't get him up to attend class when he is living with you, what makes you think he is going to have the discipline to get up and go to class when he is on his own. Sure hope you are making him use his own money for college, instead of your's.

Anonymous said...

The money from the tickets go to the county coffers, not the school's.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

10:48 - Well sir, Many school Districts have their own police forces,and Yes I do believe they are receiving that fine money. I think they are smart enough not to let someone else have it, yes I sointenly do.

Anonymous said...

OK Cowboy,

Validate what you are saying by pointing to one Texas ISD who is receiving fine money for Class C tickets that are filed in municipal or jp courts by school district police officers.

Anonymous said...

Three pops from the coach or principal would get me in line, and the thought of three more usually kept me there, at least for a while. It never harmed me....well, permanently...taught me respect for authority etc. etc. Let's go back to that, shall we, and get away from all the folderol?

quash said...

Fines definitely go to the jurisdiction where the case is filed; the schools see none of it directly.

And kids do in fact get cited for F bombs, I have defended 2 of them.

Zero tolerance means if 1 kid starts a fight both kids get a ticket. Detention, ISS, etc. must be empty.

Anonymous said...

Blame ticketing on the lege...

How much money the school receives from the state is based in part on the school district's average daily attendance. So truancy does effect the school's pocketbook. Attendance as well as graduation rate effects the schools state accountability ranking (unacceptable, acceptable, recognized or exemplary). The lege wants all students to graduate, and there is no way a kid can graduate if he or she isn't attending class.
And let us not forget, it is a law that schools file on truant students or if the student is a minor, their parent. Please don't get angry at the school if you are summoned to court, you know it is required to get your kid to school, so get them up and get them there!

Schools have become afraid to discipline a child because heaven forbid that child's self esteem might be harmed if he is punished. And if a teacher makes a student angry all they have to do is accuse the teacher of some impropriety and whether the accusation is true or false, the teacher's career and reputation are destroyed. Teachers and administrators have to protect themselves from false accusations and lawsuits. Having tickets issued is the safest way for administrators to handle discipline.

If you want to place blame for the whole ticketing mess you need to look squarely at the lege.

Anonymous said...

Grits said "I find it amazing that Texas law enforcement issued 65,000+ Class C tickets last year for nonattendance at school when IMO the fault lies with schools failing to provide a product that young people value."

I don't agree with ticketing in a lot of instances but also don't believe your assertion that schools fail to provide a product that young people value.

Do you think they would value a product that does not require a constant barrage of mandated assessment testing courtesy of the state legislature?

Oh I forgot, if the lege doesn't mandate the testing then Texas loses out on federal funding.

Today I was discussing our school bond proposal with the wisest man I know, and he pointed out that 80% of the incarcerated are dropouts.

Our county typically spends $80,000-$100,000 per year for indigent defense while it costs $30-$40 per day to keep them in jail.

If they go on to prison it costs taxpayers between $40,000 and $50,000 per year.

That’s approaching half a million dollars for a ten year sentence.

This kind of makes keeping students in school seem like a good investment.

What's your solution to the problem?

Anonymous said...

If parents would have zero tolerance of their kid's misbehavior, schools wouldn't have to deal with it. Im glad zero tolerance is in the schools, someone has to teach these kids about consequences because their parents sure as hell are not doing it. Good kids that respect the educational institution deserve to learn in a positive environment and not have to tolerate some stupid, touchy feely rules that allow kids to show disrespect toward teachers and school administrators.

Why do you think kids act that way at school? Because they act that way at home without consequence. Disrespect in the home leads to disrespect in the schools, and later leads to criminal behavior.

Anonymous said...

This is not worth commenting on. Clearly, GFB does not have a handle on education and what actually happens in schools. School administrators and teachers have a tough job, and many people outside education and even within education itself have a difficult time understanding all the accountability measures that educators and students are supposed to meet. Teachers are working miracles with many disadvantaged students only to read blogs like this and proposed bills from legislators that want to restrict the schools abilitites to hold kids accountable. GFB, and state lawmakers, come down and work in the shoes of an educator and see the complexity of issues they are dealing with. Drugs, sex in the corners, weapons, fights, assaults, threats, disrespect toward educators by students, lack of participation of parents, economic strife that so many kids are facing. There are so many good kids in schools! There are also a lot of bad kids in schools. Schools have to be assured of safety and security before any learning can take place. Kids have to be made to come to school and enforceable by the courts, because many parents are not going to require their students to come to court. Or we must ask ourselves, are we comfortable as a society to have an uneducated society. Are we ok accepting mediocrity. Are we ok with not accepting responsibility as individuals to become educated and be held accountable for our actions. Educators understand the concept of accountability all too well.