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School police increasingly
arresting American students

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Criminalizing youthful behavior


Texas Appleseed

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. 

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