The passage of House Bill 171 and the accompanying amendments is a good first step toward restoring common sense to school discipline. We must all keep in mind that the state-mandated disciplinary procedures were designed to insure safe campuses and maintain discipline and nothing more. Utilizing a draconian practice of discipline, referred to as “zero tolerance”, has been exposed through mountains of studies to have zero effect in securing campuses.
HB 171 is attempting to mandate common sense. It reiterates to independent school districts that extenuating circumstances must be taken into account when punishing a child, such as self-defense, intent to do harm, and prior disciplinary actions by the accused student. It also requires prompt notification of parents when their child is being punished.
What the bill does not do, however, is extend due process to the accused children and their parents which is the basic right of every citizen in the United States. Texas Zero Tolerance has petitioned the State Legislature to allow parents to be part of the solution to disciplinary problems. We ask that parents be advised and allowed to be present when law enforcement is questioning their children. Law enforcement should only be used in matters of a threat to the safety of campuses. Once punishment has been decided, there should be a transparent procedure to appeal any punishment that would extend to elected School Boards and in certain cases to the Texas Education Agency.
The primary shortfall of HB 171 is that parents continue to be shut out of the disciplinary process that involves their child. Until parents are allowed in the principal’s office before punishment has been decided, we will continue to see travesties of justice.