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Bill would end tickets for school tomfoolery

Posted Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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kennedy In Azle, police ticketed a ninth-grader playing touch football.

His crime: Blurting a bad word.

In Granbury, officers hauled a tuba player into court and fined him $550.

Why?

He told a crude joke in the band hall.

And then there was the Great Longview Gas Bust.

Police ticketed an elementary school boy.

His offense: A loud bodily emission.

The days of embarrassing and wasteful police work will end if the Texas House passes a bill by a senator from Dallas.

After hearing how police and courtroom resources have been wasted on trivial citations that shove students into the juvenile justice system, the Texas Senate voted unanimously Thursday to end schoolhouse tickets for Class C misdemeanors.

No more juvenile delinquency charges against students for shoving. Or writing on a wall. Or chewing gum. Or tossing the wrapper.

No more school officials delivering grandiose pronouncements the way former Azle Superintendent Santo Forte did in 1996.

"If you come to my school and you start cussing," he said, "you're going to have to pay."

If the House passes Senate Bill 393, and if Gov. Rick Perry signs it into law, school officials will have to handle cussing another way.

Police have more important work.

Long before schoolhouse policing became a nationwide concern, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson was urging the Legislature to get police and courts out of petty schoolhouse discipline.

"A trip to the principal's office now lands you in court," he testified to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee last month, and "on a path to our criminal justice system."

Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, the bill's author, said it will both protect children and preserve respect for police and courts.

Officers might still be called in. But instead of writing a ticket, they would refer misbehaving students to a preliminary discipline system, not juvenile criminal court.

Repeat offenders would face escalating discipline, and eventually court.

Cities might lose a few dollars in misdemeanor fines if the bill passes. But a representative of municipal court clerks across Texas testified in support of the bill.

Spokeswoman Deborah Fowler of the criminal justice activist group Texas Appleseed praised the bill, saying it would give officers more time to focus on "real safety threats."

Like guns. Or gangs. Not gum.

Bud Kennedy's column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. 817-390-7538

Twitter: @budkennedy

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