Bryan ISD Investigated for School-Based Ticketing Due To Disparate Impact on African-American Students

From NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund:

In a letter sent to LDF, the U.S. Department of Education has confirmed it will investigate a complaint  that we and Texas Appleseed filed which challenges the “disparate impact” that Bryan school district’s practice of issuing criminal citations for minor misbehavior has on African-American students, who are ticketed at four times the rate of their peers.

“This investigation sends a strong message to school districts around the country that the government takes seriously allegations that police are criminalizing children in school instead of keeping them safe,” said Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.

“We are pleased that OCR is pursuing this important issue and look forward to working with the Department of Education and the Bryan school district to find more positive approaches to improving student behavior and keeping more children in class and out of the court system,” said Texas Appleseed Deputy Director Deborah Fowler.

Ann Boney, President of the Brazos County NAACP, said, “We are pleased that we will move forward with this issue and begin developing a positive approach that will benefit all concerned parties.”

African-American students comprised only 21% of the Bryan district’s student population in 2011-12, but received 53% of all tickets issued last year for Disruption of Class and 51% for Disorderly Conduct-Language (profanity). While the Texas lawmakers passed legislation this spring ending school-based ticketing in most cases, school districts can still file formal complaints and send students to court for the same types of minor misbehavior.

“In a very real sense, districts like Bryan are using law enforcement as a disciplinary tool, leading students into the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Senior Attorney Michael Harris, with the National Center for Youth Law. “But research shows these matters are far better handled by educators and parents.”

We are asking OCR to require Bryan ISD to provide additional training for school police officers in adolescent behavior, conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. We are strongly encouraging implementation of nationally-tested programs shown to reduce disciplinary problems and boost academics—such as School-Wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports. Our complaint also proposes:

  • Revisions to the Bryan Student Code of Conduct to establish graduated consequences for misbehavior that minimize missed class time and reserve suspension, expulsion, and police responses to student misbehavior to only those incidents that pose a safety risk;
  • Required campus-based quarterly reporting of data on ticketing and school-related arrests, by type of incident disaggregated by race; and
  • Intervention services for students who receive multiple Class C citations and/or disciplinary referrals and who are at risk of educational failure.

It is a common practice in Texas for school districts to bring in the criminal system to handle issues with students that many people should be dealt with internally. The school-to-prison pipeline in Texas is used way too often and it is about time the Department of Education notices. Hopefully this investigation will lead to the elimination of this disparate impact practice.

Wednesday’s Children and the Law Blog

Scholar Finds Flaws in Work by Archenemy of Comics, The New York Times

Wertham, a German-born American psychiatrist, stirred a national furor and helped create a blueprint for contemporary cultural panics in 1954 with the publication of his book“Seduction of the Innocent,” which attacked comic books for corrupting the minds of young readers.

While the findings of Wertham (who died in 1981) have long been questioned by the comics industry and its advocates, a recent study of the materials he used to write “Seduction of the Innocent” suggests that Wertham misrepresented his research and falsified his results.

In a new article in Information & Culture: A Journal of History, Dr. Tilley offers numerous examples in which she says Wertham “manipulated, overstated, compromised and fabricated evidence,” particularly in the interviews he conducted with his young subjects.

Drawing from his own clinical research and pointed interpretations of comic-book story lines, Wertham argued in the book that comics were harming American children, leading them to juvenile delinquency and to lives of violence, drugs and crime.

“He had cases in which juveniles that suffered problems or took part in transgressive acts or broke the law, and he would find that they read comics,” said David Hajdu, the author of “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America.”  Even so, Mr. Hajdu said, “It does not prove causation.”

Kids’ Suspensions Renews Debate on Zero Tolerance, The Pittsburg Post Gazette

Waiting in line for the bus, a Pennsylvania kindergartner tells her pals she’s going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles. In Maryland, a 6-year-old boy pretends his fingers are a gun during a playground game of cops and robbers. In Massachusetts, a 5-year-old boy attending an after-school program makes a gun out of Legos and points it at other students while “simulating the sound of gunfire,” as one school official put it.  Kids with active imaginations?  Or potential threats to school safety?

Some school officials are taking the latter view, suspending or threatening to suspend younger children over behavior that their parents consider perfectly normal and age-appropriate — even now, with schools in a state of heightened sensitivity following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in December . . .

Texas principal Mark Terry, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said most principals whom he knows are “not big supporters” of zero tolerance policies because they discount professional judgment.

But when discipline policies do provide leeway, he said: “I would hope that principals would, No. 1, use discretion and common sense. And if you do make a mistake, apologize and say, ‘Hey, that was a boneheaded move.’  “Our sensitivities are just too high, and we need to back off a little bit and take a look at what our real safety plan is.”

Prison Data, Court Files Show Link Between School Truancy and Crime, Chicago Tribune

Of 182 boys and young men recently locked up in Illinois’ three medium-security youth prisons, at least 135 used to miss so much school that they were labeled chronic truants. Nearly 60 percent couldn’t even read at the third-grade level when they were booked in.  At the largest of the three facilities, the Illinois Youth Center St. Charles, all but nine of the 72 youths had dropped out of school entirely by the time they were incarcerated.

These figures, calculated by the Tribune from newly obtained state prison data, serve as a grim reminder that absence from school in the early grades is often the first warning of criminal misconduct that can destroy young lives as well as burden society with the costs of street violence, welfare and prison.

The records underscore the stark consequences of a crisis in K-8 grade truancy and absenteeism in Chicago that officials long ignored but have promised to address in the wake of a Tribune investigation that found tens of thousands of city elementary students miss a month or more of school in a year.

The prison data consist of raw numbers, but behind them is a ragged parade of youths whose cases fill the docket in Cook County Juvenile Court. One 2011 court report noted that a 15-year-old boy accused of selling $10 and $20 bags of heroin from an abandoned South Side building “is not attending any school at this moment.” In fact, he had disappeared from Chicago’s public schools two years earlier, court records show . . . 

“We are all aware of the tremendous impact truancy has had on the school kids of Chicago. It is not surprising that so many of them end up here,” said Cook County Circuit Judge Michael Toomin, presiding judge of the Juvenile Justice Division.

Many absent grade schoolers came from single-parent households racked by intense poverty, substance abuse or mental illness, juvenile court records show. Some youths switched schools every year as their families fled foreclosure and debt, while the elementary schools in their South Side and West Side neighborhoods had few resources to retrieve missing students or even connect with their relatives.

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

With Offence-Appropriate Penalties, State’s Juvenile Justice System on the Right Track, Adelaide Now

In South Australia, children and youths under 18 who are charged with criminal offences are dealt with under the Young Offenders Act. Australia is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires that the best interests of the child be the primary consideration when dealing with young offenders. That legal obligation reflects [the] commonsense understanding that it takes time for a child to grow into the responsibilities of an adult. The Young Offenders Act recognises this, and its first object includes providing “for youths who offend against the criminal law the care, correction and guidance necessary for their development into responsible and useful members of the community”. The Act’s next objects recognise the community’s interests: “a youth should be made aware of his or her obligations under the law and of the consequences of breach of the law”, and “the community, and individual members of it, must be adequately protected against violent or wrongful acts”.The court, and the police, must balance the interests of the child with the interests of the community and victims. They do that by experience, and by a range of responses to youth offending, ranging from practical cautions for minor offences to full-blown trials and subsequent sentencing.

Police Treatment of 17-year-old Suspects Challenged in High Court, The Guardian

The charity Just for Kids Law argues that children under the age of 18 should be treated as juveniles in line with UN convention on children’s rights.

Fighting Truancy in Chicago Schools: A Score Card on Strategies, Chicago Tribune

Chronic truancy adjudication: Illinois law authorizes school districts to hold truancy hearings at which a hearing officer can require the student and his or her parents to improve attendance, get counseling or do community service.