New Texas Laws Are Keeping Kids Out of Court
New court data show that the number of tickets written by public school police officers for student misbehavior has fallen 71 percent since new laws designed to reduce the procedure went into effect late last year.
Until the new laws, students who caused disruptions on school buses or in classrooms, who trespassed, or who possessed drugs or alcohol on school grounds could be ticketed with a Class C misdemeanor.
The reforms — authored by state Sens. Royce West, D-Dallas, and John Whitmire, D-Houston — took effect Sept. 1 and were attempts to decriminalize student behavior. West’s measure was designed to stop ticketing at school for anything but traffic violations. Whitmire’s measure specifically eliminated "disruption of class" and "disruption of transportation" from the education code.
From Sept. 1 through Dec. 31, there were 515 Class C misdemeanor tickets issued for education code violations, compared to 1,805 for the same four-month period in 2012, according to David Slayton, administrative director of the Texas Office of Court Administration.
“The full intent of the bills was to keep kids out of court,” Slayton said. “There were a lot of kids going to court for minor offenses.”
Slayton’s findings will be released at Tuesday's Senate Committee on Jurisprudence hearing, which will also feature invited testimony from school administrators and police on how the laws are faring.
Many school police officers, like George Dranowsky, chief of the East Central ISD Police Department in San Antonio, believe the reforms have gone too far.
“In my opinion, it’s created other problems,” Dranowsky said. “It’s tying law enforcement hands to enforce laws and assist school administration.”
Dranowsky said the laws leave victims of school violence defenseless. While school police can no longer ticket immediately, they can file a complaint with the local prosecutor’s office. But the complaint has to be accompanied by an affidavit from an eyewitness. Once submitted, it’s up to the local prosecutor to decide whether a Class C citation is issued.
“Let’s say a kid pushes another kid, there’s a fight, that’s assault," Dranowsky said. "It’s a Class C misdemeanor."
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