Criminalization of Student Misconduct in Texas
Beginning in the mid-1990s, school authorities began to institute “zero-tolerance” school discipline policies in response to gang activity and school shootings. Texas even went as far as making school discipline problems criminal violations, so students end up in juvenile court for misbehaving at school. Many school authorities and lawmakers are advocating changing the system, claiming that schools are doing more harm than good with their rigid disciplinary policies.
Texas A&M University and the Council of State Governments Justice Center completed a comprehensive study of school discipline by looking at all of Texas’ seventh-grade students and tracking them for six years, analyzing disciplinary actions. Of the one million students that researchers studied, 60 percent of them were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and 12th grade. Fifteen percent of the students were suspended or expelled 11 times or more.
An even more disturbing finding is the racial disparity in the disciplinary actions. For example, 70% of black female students were suspended or expelled, compared to 37% of white female students – even after they committed the same offenses.
In Texas, school authorities have the discretion to issue citations to students for such infractions as fighting, truancy, tardiness and dress code violations. The result is a class C misdemeanor for the student – the legal equivalent to offenses like insurance fraud and criminal mischief. Of the 60 percent of the students that received citations in the Texas A&M study, only 3 percent of the offenses were those for which the law required schools to issue citations; the rest were for violations of school policies. Students have to go to court and end up with criminal records after citations.
Students who receive citations are also not allowed to return to their schools. Instead, they go to alternative schools with even stricter behavior rules, where students are supposed to reform. This often ends up with students being shuffled around frequently and interrupting their educations.
Concerns About Disciplinary Policies
School officials and lawmakers are voicing concerns about Texas’ criminalization of student conduct, arguing that it has a detrimental effect on students and does not solve student behavioral problems. Ten percent of the students who were suspended or expelled in the study dropped out of school, compared with 2 percent of those who were never suspended or expelled. Fifty-nine percent of those disciplined eleven or more times dropped out of school. At a meeting state lawmakers held to discuss the findings of the report, many called for alternative methods of discipline that would divert students from the courts and keep students in school.
Having run-ins with the law at a young age can easily derail a child and set him or her on a destructive path. If your child is facing criminal charges for misbehaving at school, contact an experienced juvenile defense lawyer who can help achieve the best outcome to the situation.