Texas schools abusing the criminal justice system -Giving kids Class C misdemeanor charges rather than detention!
If you disrupted class or used profanity back in school, you were probably sent to the principal’s office. Today in Texas, more students are being sent to criminal court instead.
Last February a student at Fulmore Middle School says she received a ticket for “disruption of class” after spraying perfume on herself.
“I didn’t do anything wrong,” said 13-year-old Sarah, who was in the sixth grade at the time she was ticketed. “I thought I didn’t smell good and the next thing you know, the whole class complains for no reason.”
Sarah said her teacher took her out of class and told an officer assigned to the school that she was being disruptive. Sarah said that she had been the victim of bullying by some of the same students since the second grade.
The ticket carried the weight of a Class C misdemeanor and called for a $150 fine. Sarah's attorney said the tickets are common in Texas and believes they send the wrong message.
“We’re basically criminalizing school discipline,” said Kady Simkins of Advocacy Inc. “Things that you or I would have been sent to the principal’s office for, a child may receive a ticket for, and they end up in the criminal justice system very, very young.”
Sarah’s mother could not understand why the officer would have written a ticket, since he was not in Sarah’s class when the alleged disruption occurred.
“I think it’s wrong,” said Sarah’s mother, Jennifer. “If you don’t see it, how could you say she disturbed a class?”
Ticketing in Texas has been around for more than two decades. A rise in school violence in Texas in the mid-1990s convinced lawmakers to get tougher on school crime, and it may have, in turn, led to more tickets since.
According to Texas Appleseed, an Austin-based non-profit law foundation, officers wrote more than 275,000 Class C misdemeanor tickets to students in 2009. Some of those students were as young as six.
The majority of the tickets were for bad behavior in school. Police wrote the most in Houston, followed by Dallas, San Antonio, Brownsville and Austin. They came with a fine of $50 to $500, required students and a guardian to appear in municipal court, and could stay on a student’s record in to adulthood.
They could also impact that student’s chances of getting into college. A uniform application now commonly used in Texas asks if they have ever been convicted of a misdemeanor, felony, or other crime. To that, more students must now answer "yes."
“All of the evidence that looks at really 'get tough' measures for kids finds that they are totally counterproductive,” said Texas Appleseed Director Deborah Fowler. “They don’t work, they lead to poor outcomes, and they are a waste of our resources.”
Others disagree. Captain Eric Mendez of AISD police believes the tickets have a place. He would not comment on Sarah’s case, however he did say that times have changed.
“Our officers need to have the same abilities in a school setting as you would out in the community.” Capt. Mendez said. “Just because you’re inside the four walls of a school doesn’t mean that the laws change. An assault is still and assault and possession of marijuana is still possession of marijuana.”
Still, Texas Appleseed would like to see a minimum age for tickets set to 14. There is support within the Capitol for new laws.
“I don’t believe I’d go the ticket route,” said Sen. John Whitmire (D) Houston. “I don’t think we are dealing with criminal justice problems; they are school problems.”
As for Sarah’s case, she will soon go before a jury of six adults. They will decide the punishment for an act her mother believes an educator should have handled.
“I feel like the teacher should have just stopped it right then and there,” said Sarah’s mother, Jennifer. “She could have asked the other students to stop harassing Sarah, asked Sarah to give her the perfume, and just let it go from there.”
Sarah said the whole episode has left her feeling “embarrassed,” as she prepares for her day in court
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