Texas Zero Tolerance
Texas Zero Tolerance
© Texas Zero Tolerance
Tommy laid his head on his desk while the teacher was instructing the class in a new chapter from the math text book. Tommy is in the sixth grade and is 11 years old.  Last night his Mother was rushed to the hospital during an emergency and he did not get to bed until very late. Today he is tired and anxious about his Mother. While his head is on his desk, he fell asleep. He was awakened abruptly by a uniformed police officer standing beside his desk. The officer ordered him to stand up and put his hands behind his back. He was handcuffed and led out of the classroom.
Texas Public Schools: Producing Criminals and Generating Revenue
The police officer then provided Tommy with a written citation for “disorderly conduct”.  He and his parents will be subpoenaed to court where Tommy will be prosecuted for disorderly conduct carrying a fine of $500.00 dollars and six months probation by the court case manager. Tommy will carry a record of this conviction into adult life with no distinction that it occurred from a rule violation while in public schools.

You may wonder just how could this happen. Many parents of children that attend public schools in Texas are asking that very question.  What they are learning is very shocking and alarming. It seems that the Texas Legislature has passed laws that allow independent school districts to authorize the use of the courts, fines, and case managers, under court authority, to maintain school discipline.   Texas laws have been amended to establish the Municipal and Justice of the Peace courts as quasi Juvenile courts with authority to hear cases against school students for violations of published policies by your locally elected school board of trustees.  That is correct. In Texas your locally elected school board of trustees can authorize the police to issue citations, fines and require court supervision of your children for any violation of the local Student Code of Conduct and the schools are using this procedure relentlessly.

In many schools the discipline management system established to teach students discipline under school authority has nearly become extinct. Many school administrators, under this system, have come to believe that it isn’t even their job to teach school children proper behavior or self-discipline while at school. They have come to believe that it is the parent’s responsibility to teach their own children proper behavior while at school and their job is to call the police if there is a violation of school rules. The instructors at the Texas Municipal Courts Education Center , charged with the responsibility of training municipal and justice of the peace court judges, have described the trend as “pass the paddle”.

The courts that hear these cases are experiencing a windfall of revenue. A single court in one Texas school district, held on one Saturday morning assessed over four hundred parents a fine of $500.00 dollars each. This revenue is funding a growing governenmental bureaucracy associated with these prosecutions.  Children are placed under a form of court supervision. Many times the judge will establish a requirement that if they are sent to the school office for a behavior violation in the future, they will be returned to the court for consideration. Some times the child is held in a cell over night for “violation of a court order”; the court order being, not to be sent to the school office for any behavior violation. The money seems to be an important part of the process as well. In the 79th Session of the Texas Legislature, House Bill 2505 was introduced to allow the school districts to collect the majority of the court revenue from their students for themselves and only give the courts an administrative fee. It didn’t pass this time, but I am sure it will be reintroduced each time the legislature meets until it does pass.

This process is a prime example of how we have become so indoctrinated by the practice of using law enforcement and courts to solve all of the social and behavioral concerns we confront in our society. This country has more people in prison, per capita, than any other comparable industrialized nation on earth and it is big business. For the business to continue to grow there must continue to be an increase in crime and the number of criminals. The crime data indicates that less violence and crime are occurring annually especially with juveniles and has been declining for over 12 years.  By expanding judicial authority into areas that have not previously been prosecuted; growth can continue.

It is important to know how Texas public education is governed and just who has authority to affect reasonable change. Texas is made up of over 1,000 independent school districts. Each school district is an independent taxing entity with the authority to have their own independent police force that answers to the school district superintendent. State, county and municipal law enforcement agencies do not have jurisdiction on independent school district property unless invited by school officials through policy or case by case as needed. Texas law establishes that the elected school board of trustees is responsible for the care and custody of each child from the time they get on the school bus until they are returned home. School board trustees are elected by the community and are responsible for approving all school district policies regarding the entire operation of the school along with the hiring of employees and regulation of student and employee conduct. The elected school board of trustees and their designees serve under the law as “local parents” to each student while at school or at a school sponsored or school related event. This relationship establishes some very specific responsibilities.

School boards are responsible for student custody, care and education. That is a unique responsibility that involves assuring that each student’s rights are protected, their educational responsibilities are met and they are returned to their parents safe and secure at the end of the day. Many schools by policy or because of the lack of a policy have become one of the greatest threats to parents and students legal rights. A good example of how this occurs can best be explained regarding school board policies regulating student interrogation by police while at school.

I’ll start out with a quote from a staff attorney from the Texas Education Agency;

“There is no law authorizing an officer to interview a child on campus (except for investigations of child abuse or neglect). The school district can choose. It can permit interrogations, it can refuse to allow interrogations, or it can choose to allow interrogations only if the parent has first been contacted. However, if an officer is there to arrest a student or take the student into custody, the district definitely should not interfere.”

Many school districts do not have school board policies regarding student interrogation by police while at school. The decisions are made independently by campus administrators and often the administrator will assist the police officer in violating you and your child’s rights.

As a general rule, across the nation, juveniles may have their parents present for any interrogation by police for any allegation against their child. Texas requires a police officer to contact the parents of a juvenile immediately after they take them into custody for questioning. They also must contact the parent if the juvenile request that their parent be present for questioning. The tricky part is Texas has determined that “immediately” means six (6) hours and unless the juvenile knows to demand and specifically state “I want my parents here before I answer any questions”. Parents will not be contacted immediately. Another concern about police interrogation of juveniles is, they are trained and can tell the youth any lie they wish to encourage the juvenile to confess to whatever is the immediate concern.

Often a school administrator will form a relationship with a local police officer and use a technique of questioning the student known as “color of law”. This takes place when a school administrator calls a student into the office to question a student while a police officer sits in the room and listens. This is a way to circumvent the legal requirements of parent notification. This is a serious concern for parents because school administrators should be protecting parents and student’s rights rather then circumventing them.

You may wonder where is this headed and why is it allowed to continue. Under the theory of “local control “ in Texas public schools, parents can elect school board members that will support policies that the majority of the community believes are needed in the school. It is becoming common practice for schools to reach further and further into the previously unquestioned authority of parents to regulate the lives of their children by the State usurping more and more jurisdiction over the children. A prime example is the most recent Texas Attorney General’s opinion stating that Texas schools have the authority to use corporal punishment on children even over the parents written objections. The Texas School Crisis Management Plans include student “lockdowns” that will regulate when parents may have access to retrieve their children from school.

These are alarming trends and parents need to know what is happening to “public education” in Texas .