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Are Texas Public Schools Criminalizing Children By Ticketing Students For Misbehavior?

Flickr user TN Drum Guy

Two Senate lawmakers and the chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court are asking the state to look into the possible disparity of minority children being criminally ticketed for misbehaving in the classroom. 

"An estimated 300,000 misdemeanor tickets are issued in our state’s schools each year," said Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson. "We are criminalizing our children for non-violent offenses."

Jefferson told lawmakers to tackle the issue this session during his State of the State Address, and Senators Royce West, D-Dallas, and Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, are taking up the cause in the form of Senate Bill 420 and Senate Bill 1304.

"It requires TEA to create a PEIMS (Public Education Information Management System) code for corporal punishment and requires the commissioner to adopt a process to report tickets that are issued to students on a school campus by a peace officer," said Davis.

PEIMS codes are statistics code tools used for tracking numbers related to corporal punishment.

West said the Council of State Governments studied the issue in 2011, and found that African-American students received a 31 percent rate of punishment in public schools.

"Research shows that school disciplinary action including removing students out of classrooms to suspension lead to increase chances of students dropping out of school - duh - or landing in the juvenile justice system - duh. Research also shows whether a student will be suspended or expelled for misbehavior at a school is largely dependent on a student race or disability, not the student’s behavior," said West.

HB 420, which West authored, directs the TEA to look into the disciplinary records of each school district and form a plan to correct the problem when a district shows a higher rate of discipline for minority students. 

Yannis Banks with the Texas NAACP spoke in favor of the bill. 

"For years the NAACP has stated that public education is a civil rights issue, especially when you compare the disparity in disciplinary rates between minority students and Caucasian children," Banks said. 

Banks said many of these Class C Misdemeanor tickets being handed out are for misbehavior such as writing on a desk or talking out of turn, which he said is "over ticketing kids."

A study by Texas Appleseed Foundation called The School to Prison Pipeline showed that once a child is in the juvenile justice system the likelihood of those students becoming a repeat offender greatly increases. 

Banks said after that time away students get behind in their studies and it is not long before they drop out of school.

Both SB 1304 and SB 420 were left pending in the Senate Committee on Education.

A PBS Newshour special on school discipline in Texas:

Watch Harsh Punishment for Misbehavior in Texas Schools on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Ryan started his radio career in 2002 working for Austin’s News Radio KLBJ-AM as a show producer for the station's organic gardening shows. This slowly evolved into a role as the morning show producer and later as the group’s executive producer.