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Too many tickets

From Texas Appleseed, via Grits.

Class C Ticketing, Arrest of Youth at School is Introducing Thousands to Justice System, Says New Appleseed Report

Schools Should Follow Lead of Juvenile Justice Agencies: Restrict Pepper Spray, Taser Use

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 record keeping 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.

The full report is quite long, but the executive summary is enough to give you a good picture of it; this Texas Trib story is also a good summary. I was curious as to how much HISD spent on its police force, so I sent an email to Trustee Anna Eastman to inquire. She responded that the budget allocates $13.5 million to HISD police, of which 95% is personnel. Speaking for myself, I’d prefer that HISD look at cutbacks in this area when forced to do so by the legislative budget before it looks at things that would affect classroom instruction. If nothing else, I’d like to see more scrutiny of their practices, and I hope this report offers a starting point for the discussion.

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6 Comments

  1. Philip says:

    The SRO (School Resource Officer) at our school is amazing. He works with kids, talks to them, gives them incentives for good behavior and yes, writes tickets if they are necessary. Some, feel that police should have nothing to do with schools. I will agree with them when all parents decide to hold their child responsible for the actions (or inactions) of the child. Low grades – no excuses. Bad behavior – no excuses. Fighting – no excuses. In a gang – no excuses. Did not make the team – work harder. No I am not talking about the majority of parents; and your article is not about the majority of students or police officers. As a general rule 90% of the problems at school are created by less than 10% of the student population.

    Blog idea for Mr. Kuffner: Go to schools with police officers and find out the reasons that students, teachers and parents find their presence to be a positive. When I was in the classroom, our SRO allowed us the ability and time to teach. He dealt with the few and sent them back to class. They went to court and either a) learned a lesson and won’t do it again, or b) were allowed to not learn a lesson because someone let them think that they did not do anything wrong.

    Here is a question about race discrepency: Should a police officer check a sheet to see how many tickets he has written to different races prior to writing a ticket to an individual that is sitting in his office? “This is your lucky day, I have already reached my quota of asian kids for this month – so you are off the hook. But don’t let me catch you screwing around again.” That is obviously stupid.

    As for kids getting arrested as they become of age for not taking care of past fines. I do not understand the problem. When the individual receives the fine work out a payment plan with the court and then pay the fine off. I don’t have any money! Find a job. I wrecked a car when I was 15; my mother rented me out for every menial task that could be found so that I could pay off my debt. I learned that if I screwed up, it was on me to rectify the situation.

  2. I appreciate your anecdotal evidence, Philip, but it doesn’t address what the report has to say. I think these are legitimate concerns that deserve to be more fully discussed, which is why I linked to it. If someone out there has a study that rebuts what’s in here, I’ll be happy to talk about it, too. As far as the race discrepancy goes, the data are what they are. You can offer whatever explanation or interpretation you like. This is what the data shows, it’s up to us what (if anything) we choose to do with it.

  3. Teach says:

    I’m wondering if the director of Texas Appleseed has ever sat in a classroom that has been disrupted time after time by a student who is allowed to behave selfishly and thoughtlessly due to his/her emotional disturbance special education label. If they mis-behave, it is considered a manifestation of their disability, so they cannot be punished by the school for that behavior. Meanwhile, all of the other students in the class have their learning disrupted and slowed down so the teacher can address the student’s outbursts. This student cannot be sent to In-School Suspension, because he/she would then end up on another list keeping track of how many special education students have been given ISS; he/she cannot be given out-of-school suspension for the same reason. What else is there? Positive behavior reinforcement??? Candy?? Oh wait…we can’t use candy because the government says that is what is making our kids obese. Hmmm…grades? Oh wait, the kids disrupting class don’t want to be there in the first place and grades are meaningless. Also, they may not have a very good attendance record, and if he Class C misdemeanor Truancy ticket is taken away, how do we punish those students for breaking the law–you know–the law that says all students must attend school? What about the thefts, drug possession, tobacco possession infractions that would go undocumented if these tickets were halted? Simply grouping all tickets into one big lump does nothing but create fear and misunderstanding in the general public who does not know the details or histories of those tickets.

    If a judge were told to conduct all of their trials within a specific time frame while also being required to allow jury members to walk around the courtroom at will, stand up and cuss the judge or lawers out, doodle, wear their headphones, and tell the judge they do not want to be there (because, of course, you can’t punish them for their emotional disabilities), I wonder how many trials would ever get finished? What does the judge do? Hmmm…sends them to jail? Has them arrested and fined for contempt of court? What if that judge had to report by ethnicity, gender, and age every one of those jurors who was removed due to their disability, and then fill out a 70 page action plan for correcting that? Not going to happen–why? Because the judge wants to get the proceedings over with. The more disruption, the longer the trial will take, and the more possibilities the jurors who have been disturbed and threatened by the other jurors will have missed valuable details about the trial that would aid them in making the proper verdict. It would also cost tax payers LOTS of money. What about the students in the classroom following the rules and doing what is right? What about their RIGHT to that same education the student who is disrupting it has? Will no on stand up for them?

    Getting a truancy ticket does NOT cause a student to become a criminal. Does a speeding ticket or a parking ticket cause the speeder to turn to a life of crime? The kids who receive tickets need to learn consequences. If school’s hands are tied in regards to discipline or the law, then tickets are one form of consequence. Please, Texas Appleseed, do some research by sitting in those classrooms and schools before you pick up a black-and-white report that only lists numbers and percentages on a page. There are people behind those numbers–regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, etc. What happens in schools is a reflection of society as a whole–not the other way around.

  4. […] couple of weeks ago I noted a Texas Appleseed report that discussed an increase in “Class C misdemeanor ticketing and […]

  5. […] it’s worth, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of savings in this – as I reported before, according the HISD Trustee Anna Eastman, HISD budgets $13.5 million for its police force, […]

  6. […] but surely the districts can figure out a way to do it for less. And if along the way that means fewer tickets are written, that’s all to the […]