State Rep. Giddings Wants School Districts to Stop Treating Students Like Criminals

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A couple of weeks back Texas Appleseed and ACLU of Texas reps were down in Austin asking why oh why do state school districts feel the need to write class C misdemeanor tickets to students, some as young as 6, in the case of the Dallas Independent School District back in '06-'07. John Whitmire's SB 1116 seeks to curb the practicing of writing students tickets, especially during class; so too does state Rep. Helen Giddings's HB 3758, which says "a peace officer may not require a student who is younger than 12 years of age to sign a citation issued to the student on school property during regular school hours."

Giddings's proposed legislation heads to the House Public Education Committee next week. And in advance of that, she sends a missive explaining the need for such legislation. The Dallas Democrat's op-ed titled "Breaking the Handcuffs on Texas Children," which was sent by her office, follows in full.
Breaking the Handcuffs on Texas Children

By Texas State Rep. Helen Giddings

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 non-violent 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 2006-07. 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 being unfairly overrepresented in ticketing. African Americans, and to some degree Hispanics are also disproportionately represented in ticketing and arrests. With some districts reporting African Americans receiving 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."

In large part, gone are the days when children were sent to the principal for behaviors 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 and they 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 end up paying from $60 to $500 in fines. In the case of multiple citations the costs can be even higher. Another unfortunate fact is that Class C tickets are not handled in juvenile court and students as young as five years of age are not afforded the same protections of the juvenile civil court system. As many understand if you are not able to afford your own attorney in a criminal proceeding an attorney will be appointed for you. However, this is not the case for the 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 with limited resources and budget cuts, the state should not be exhausting time and money. The state's resources could be better spent on adequately funding education.

The result of this increased rate of ticketing and arrests of students for non-violent, non-sexual and non-harassing behavior is creating a pathway to prisons for these children. Disruption of class and disrespect of teachers and students is inappropriate behavior and should not be tolerated in Texas schools. However, not tolerating this behavior, does not mean we should criminalize our children.

Children should be reprimanded for bad behavior and schools should be armed with the tools to do so. So if we eliminate the option to criminally charge children, what is the solution? Schools should first rely on their student code of conduct for small disruptions, such as using profanity in class. For more serious offenses alternative disciplinary schools could be an option. One of the most effective tools would be positive behavioral support programs, which have been shown to reduce disciplinary problems. Additionally, police officers are not necessarily trained to focus on the child and their educational development, but rather on law enforcement. There is a need for police officers in schools to apply educational philosophy with law enforcement ethos, so that behavioral issues in schools are more appropriately addressed. Special training for school police officers should be required that would train them to differentiate between behavior that is characteristically immature for a particular age group versus behavior that warrants law enforcement response. Training school police officers about child behavior and de-escalation techniques, peer mediation and school-based alternatives should be considered as part of the solution for more serious offenses. As a last resort when Class C misdemeanors are given, amounts above the administrative court fee should be returned to the schools to set up mediation and anger management programs to help children with severe behavioral issues.

House Bill 3758 which is being heard in the house public education committee on Tuesday will prohibit the issuance of certain Class C misdemeanor citations to children who are twelve years old or younger. Children 12 and younger, whose behavior is non-violent, non-sexual and not harassing 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.


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22 comments
Also a Mom
Also a Mom

Thank you Panhandle Mom for your post. I see there are no snarky remarks added to the comments from the previous posters and this is because they want that dirtly little secret to remain a secret. If we were just talking about out of control students I could certainly understand their frustration. However, it is cases like yours that bring the need for changes in the way Zero Tolerance laws are used. I, too, had to deal with something similar in my daughter's school. She was an A student, GT, never been in trouble, and in the blink of an eye that all changed. The same false statements were given to me and as long as I sat quietly they were fine but when questioned, the gloves came off. I persued it all the way to the state legislature and fortunately "intent" is now required before such punishments can be given. That said, articles like these show there is clearly more work that needs to be done. It also shows that the school districts have used the old "where there is a will there is a way" approach.

Panhandle mom
Panhandle mom

I don't think you guys realize it's not only the punk disruptive kids that are being issued citations, in fact it seems the schools are easier on them because they are "at risk studetns". My daughter, an honor student, varsity cheerleader, and all around great kid made a bad choice in school when a peer asked her to spray his hand with pepper spray to see what it would do. No one disputes she should have been disciplined, no one disputed she made a bad choice. She is a junior in high school with no previous disciplinary history however the way she was treated following this incident was more like she was a hardened criminal.

She was issued a citation for disruption of class. Mind you, this was in a class where kids were setting around tables listening to a radio and talking with no teacher in the room. When the teacher returned to the room and asked what the smell was she was told a lie and my daughter....the "probelm child" went forward and told the teacher what she did, however that had no merit when it came down to the punishment phase. She was placed in DAEP, which both her dad and I supported at the time. Both the principal and assistant principal said they hated to have to do this but because of zero tolerance they had to place her in DAEP. They said they knew she had no previous disciplinary history and there was no ill or malicious intent, just kids being kids. They assured me following her punishment she would be back to normal and all this would be put behind us. That was not true....

Come to find out, they didn't have to place her in DAEP under zero tolerance. In fact they failed to properly apply and execute their own rules. The student hand book clearly states the device my daughter sprayed was not in the catagory of mandatory DAEP placment. But as a result of them failing to properly execute their policies, my daugher is not allowed to hold an officer position in any school organization, she can not be a member of NHS, or Student government. Even though she was allowed to return this year and finish the year as a varsity cheerleader she was ineligible to try out for her senior year because of DAEP placement.This series of events has caused my daughter to stressed, she doesn't eat, she's not sleeping, she told her dad and I she wished she could just close her eyes and never wake up. She said she wants to die.

This is a kid that all her teachers love. She has been in the same school district for 12 years and has never had less than an "A" in conduct and has no previous discipline. How is can someone say this kid deserves what she got. Like I said, I never disputed her level of discipline. I firmly believe kids need to be disciplined. I discipline my children at home and when they do something they shouldn't, they know they will be punished. I also believe punishment should be corrective not punitive. In cases, such as ours, school discipline becomes punitive and that is wrong. Same goes for the citation issued. Thank goodness we had a wonderful Judge that saw this case for what it was and threw it out. Many kids across our state are not as lucky as we are.

If my daugher had persistant bad behavior and this wasn't her first time in 12 years to mess up then I would say she didn't learn her lesson the first time and she needs stronger punishment. I feel based on these circumstances, excluding her from these organizations she has worked so hard to be a part of is excessive and punitive punishment.

You would think the school officials would look at her and think of her as a good example for their students. She knew she messed up, she went to the teacher, told her what she had done and accepted the punishment they gave her. Instead school officials have criminalized her and have destroyed her self esteam. They have made her feel, as she says, "one of those kids". As long as I went along with school officials they were very polite and told me everything I wanted to hear but once I questioned whether or not they had properly executed their punishment, it all changed. I got to see the other side.... and it wasn't good.

Please understand, I don't think discipline needs to be removed from schools. I think they policies should be properly enforced and I discipline needs to be corrective not punitive. I have addressed the school board and hope to make a positive change in our district. By the way... the night we addressed the school board concerning our situation, my daughter was also recognized for earning a State UIL medal. But because of her few seconds of poor judgment, she is no longer considered a role model for her peers. What a shame!!!

Families
Families

Dear Rep. Giddings,

Thank you for standing up for children with disabilities. They are the most mistreated and misunderstood population in the school system and they need someone strong on their side.

Many of our children do not speak and they use behaviors as a way to communicate their needs and wants. Because many school staff do not understand them, the children are punished for their behaviors that are part of their disabilities.

Regards,

JoanFlorida

Sanders Kaufman
Sanders Kaufman

This has to be because there are a lot of teachers, especially the older ones and the religious ones, who lack classroom management skills. When someone doesn't do as they're told when they're told, these kinds of teachers just don't know what to do.We COULD replace them with people who do have the necessary skills - but that would cost money that the people of Texas would rather spend elsewhere.

anon
anon

Bring back paddling!

Phelps
Phelps

"We must find a way for zero tolerance to meet with common sense for the sake of Texas children." Really? That's like saying that we must find a way to mix oil and water. Zero Tolerance means zero thought. Zero thought can never meet common sense.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

I am alllll for citing the parents instead.Ticket the parents. Handcuff the parents. Display the parents' faces on billboards. Run criminal background checks on the parents. Hassle, hassle, hassle these disengaged, irresponsible parents who neglect and abuse their kids and then turn them loose on society.

Their child suffers and society suffers, but the parents never do. They have "rights".

I know that sounds harsh, but most people have no idea what is going on in urban public schools. They are increasingly out of control and dangerous places for kids.

The kids know that, thanks to Hinojosa and the school board in Dallas, anything goes. You don't want to work? We can't fail or retain you. You want to break another kid's nose (happened twice this week at my school)? You'll be back on campus within a week. Sell drugs? Village Fair is full (it's always full); stay on campus until a spot opens up.

And then people wonder how kids graduate without reading or math skills, if they even do graduate.

We did not have ONE day this week at my school without a serious fight or other disruption. We had Dallas Police (not DISD police) on my campus every single day. One DPD officer stores his sodas in our faculty refrigerator bc he's on campus so often! And I work at a good school with a dedicated team of administrators. I can only imagine the schools staffed by 3700 cronies.

An out of control 6 year old is a sign that something is seriously wrong in the home. Get all up in that parent's business then and maybe we won't have full prisons later.

*We can't get parents to come up for conferences to discuss their child's needs and struggles. The only way to get them up to the school is to catch the kid texting and take the kid's cell phone up. The parent is there THE NEXT MORNING, bright and early, demanding that cell phone. THAT'S what DISD teachers are dealing with. Grades? Behavior? Who cares? But don't touch my kid's cell phone...

OK. Rant over.

TimCov
TimCov

Well, what do you expect when you tie the hands of the people in the school? They can't spank the kids, the parents throw a fit if you try to keep the kid after school (or even talk to them about their little darling's awful behavior), and (since they have to be their anyways) most of the trouble makers have no problem with in-school suspension.

Dancetexas2000
Dancetexas2000

Your daughter received the correct consequence. Pepper spray discharge is way too serious an incident to ignore, with many physical repercussions to anyone in the area for a significant amount of time after the discharge. As a good student, cheerleader, "A" student, etc. she would seem to have the common sense to realize the severity of endangering others in her class.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

I don't think we are talking about the same thing !

I guess You are speaking of those who have definable problems .

I am speaking of to clinical term little TURDS IN THE PUNCH BOWL.ASS HATS .

Who have no clue how to behave in a social settings .

Most of what I have seen in a classroom is the kid who like a comedy club heckler thinks thinks everyone is there to see them.

Maybe we just need some Bad Ass Bouncers to show them the door.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

When someone doesn't do as they're told when they're told, these kinds of teachers just don't know what to do.

Why should they have to ?

Replace the disruptive little Bleeps with an empty desks.

Behave ,Learn, Or Go HOME !

Dancetexas2000
Dancetexas2000

Most districts in the state still have it on the books. It requires parent permission.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Honestly I don't think this group of kids would make the connection between PAIN and needing to stop what they are doing.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Unless you have zero tolerance, you have no room for leniency.It becomes anything goes.

Zero tolerance means we can find a way to kick your ass out if you threaten another child's sense of well being.

Ever seen a child too sick to eat lunch bc a bully had threatened them?I have. It's soul-searing.Zero tolerance allows schools to nab the thugs and bullies on other technicalities. Every time I see a kid on the news kicked out for something ridiculous I think, "Yeah, that's just the technicality they finally pinned on that little sociopath."

Ever heard a kid mutter the N word every time a black kid walked by?I have.And then the kid denies it.Usually those are the same kids who draw guns firing at headless bodies splurting blood.

With a good kid, you can talk to them and their parents before things go farther.With other kids, you've tried a million times and now you need zero tolerance.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Want to learn welcome to stay. Want to disrupt there is the door.

I don't think people have room judge an administrations forceful reaction Until they really see how things like this develop from education situation to police intervention .

Sanders Kaufman
Sanders Kaufman

That's really only a problem for teachers who are abusive, dishonest and otherwise lack interpersonal communications skills.If you have to beat a child, the child is not the problem.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Sanders is a troll who trolled the DMN DISD Blog for awhile.He has no idea what he is talking about.

Most of the most vicious fights happen in the bathroom (ever seen a wall splattered with blood? DISD teachers have. Noses and faces in general bleed a lot) or outside between portables.

It has nothing to do with classroom management.

It has everything to do with Hinojosa refusing to remove violent and disruptive kids from comprehensive campuses.

Why? Ask him. I await the spin.

DISD Parent x3
DISD Parent x3

I agree with a lot of what you are saying but I also see it go the other way. The sociopath you refer to is good at framing someone else up for the fight. He walks and someone else is in court explaining why he or she swung back after the 49th time.

I think the school district has the tools to deal with this without the criminal citation - its just if the school chooses to do it. I saw the situation turn around 100% at our local DISD junior high when they got a headmaster in that cared.

And I know you as a teacher don't always have control over the headmaster deal either so I feel for you.

Dancetexas2000
Dancetexas2000

...but teachers are not allowed to eject disruptive students- the students who are there to learn are having their right to learn violated because a disruptive student's "rights" are more important.

DISD Teacher
DISD Teacher

Thank you, Oak Cliff.NO teacher wants the police up there unless the safety of other kids is at stake.

If schools call the police, it's serious.

Increasingly, parents who love their children and pay attention pull their kids out of public school OR try send them to magnets. Just like Edwin Flores--a DISD school board member. One thing for everyone else's child while his go to magnets....

Hanging
Hanging

You obviously are not a teacher and probably have one of the kids in question. Id be willing to bet that you are one of those parents who medicates their kids to control them rather than actually give consequences.....Getting a special ed label is soo much easier on the kid and parent than actually raising your kid to have respect for people of any age as well as their property.

The kids that get tickets are few and there are a constant disruption on the campus in general. There is no guidance or school support at home so the kid continues to do what they want. Kids in middle school are getting right up in teachers faces and trying to intimidate the teacher. they are dealing drugs. Not just marijuana. They are dealing meth, cocaine, heroin, ecstacy, etc.....not to mention prescription drugs.....their own!!! Adderal, Xanax etc.... They bring weapons to school, they steal from classmates, they disrupt class so that the other 25 or so in there have to wait till that ONE student is gone before they can learn something from the teacher. I find it difficult to believe your assertion about a bad teacher when its typically just ONE kid in the class causing problems.

It appears you are one of many parents that need to grow up and accept the fact that you did a lousy job of raising your own kid(s), if you have any. If you dont, you have no reason to even comment on this topic.

Dancetexas2000
Dancetexas2000

The district has EXCELLENT tool and EXCELLENT rules... they are ignored to give the miscreant "another chance" to bully, harass, and prevent the learning of others.

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