Sunday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

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Here’s a look at today’s top stories affecting children’s rights, juvenile justice, and education:

Texas Districts Flagged for Suspending Students With Disabilities, Education Week

Disability Rights Texas has flagged 30 districts for disproportionately using out-of-school suspensions to punish students with disabilities.

Based on data from the Texas Education Agency, the group said that in these 30 districts, about 22 percent of students with disabilities were suspended out of school during the 2010-11 school year, compared to an average of 7 percent for students with disabilities in all Texas districts. But across all groups of students in all districts, only about 4 percent of students were suspended out of school, Disability Rights Texas said in a report this month.

Two Notable Changes in [Texas] Law on Student Discipline Take Effect for New School Year, Burnt Orange Report

Two notable changes in the law regarding student discipline take effect in this new school year.

Anti-Bullying: HB 1942 by Republican Rep. Diane Patrick of Arlington, enacted in 2011, makes significant new state law on the issue of bullying. As of the start of the new 2012-2013 school year, HB 1942 establishes a comprehensive definition of bullying, including bullying by electronic means (so-called cyber-bullying), and requires school districts to adopt a local anti-bullying policy. The new law allows school districts to transfer the bully to another classroom or campus (where prior law has authorized only the transfer of the victim). The local anti-bullying policy must contain eight specified elements, including a provision that prohibits “imposition of a disciplinary measure on a student who, after an investigation, is found to be a victim of bullying, on the basis of that student’s use of reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying.”

Expulsions: Starting with the 2012-2013 school year, HB 968 by Democratic Rep. Mark Strama of Austin narrows the categories of misconduct that can trigger discretionary expulsion of a student while in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP). Until now, a student could be expelled for any “serious or persistent” misconduct while in a DAEP. Under the new law, a student may be expelled for “documented serious misbehavior while on the program campus despite documented behavioral interventions.”

Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislation 2001 – 2011 (Report), National Conference of State Legislatures

Grits for Breakfast highlights a noteworthy finding in the report:

A major trend in juvenile justice policy in the past decade has been to expand the jurisdiction of the juvenile court by increasing the upper age of jurisdiction. Today, 38 states set the maximum age at 17, 10 states—Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin—set the age at 16, and two states—North Carolina and New York—set it at 15; therefore, 16- and 17- year-olds automatically are tried in the adult system.

In 2007, a Connecticut law raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 16 to 18. Connecticut previously had the largest number of inmates under age 18 in its adult system. According to recent data, the proposed change in the age of juvenile jurisdiction moves more than 10,000 new cases a year from the adult criminal justice system to the juvenile justice system. Research also shows that moving 16- and 17-year-old youth out of the adult system into the juvenile system will return about $3 in benefits for every $1 in cost.

Also in 2007, the Rhode Island General Assembly reversed the governor’s recommendation to decrease the age of juvenile jurisdiction from 18 to 17 and restored the jurisdiction age to 18. The same year, Missouri expanded juvenile court jurisdiction to include status offenders age 18 and younger. In 2009, an Illinois act raised the age of juvenile court jurisdiction from 17 to 18 for youth charged with misdemeanor offenses, while Colorado expanded eligibility for sentencing for select youth ages 18 to 21 to the youthful offender system instead of to the adult offender population.

In 2010, a Mississippi law allows juveniles charged with certain felonies— robbery, drug offense and arson— to remain in the juvenile justice system. Previously, all 17-year-olds charged with felonies were tried in adult court. The same year, an Oklahoma measure provided that those up to six months into age 18 can be adjudicated in the juvenile system for misdemeanors.

Delinquent by Reason of Poverty, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)

Years before they turn 18, millions of children are caught up in the U.S. juvenile justice system, a principal feeder into the criminal courts. Recent research has revealed that as a result of both institutional and structural causes, the standard of proof in delinquency court is determined in large part by the socioeconomic class of the accused, rather than the nature of the forum. As a result, the state’s burden of proof is lowered for indigent children and heightened for affluent ones. Therefore, in all but the most serious of cases, children from low-income homes do not have to be as “guilty” as those from families of means in order to enter and remain in the system, widening the net of court intervention for the poor.

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