For about 10 years there was a disturbing trend in many Texas school districts, especially those in urban areas, of students being ticketed for violations on campus and ending up in municipal or justice of the peace courts.
Those are adult courts, which means that the public records followed students into adulthood, often hurting their efforts to seek a job or apply for college.
Last year, at the urging of then-Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and the Texas Judicial Council, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 393, which was intended to rein in the practice of making criminals out of youngsters who violated school policy.
The law took effect in September, so there’s no exact data on its impact yet. But the issuance of Class C misdemeanor tickets at schools is down significantly, according to a representative for Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit advocacy group for children, indigent people, people with disabilities and immigrants, which championed the bill.
State Sen. Royce West, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, issued a statement of concern last week that there are too many criminal citations issued to students and that, based on anecdotal evidence, some districts are not abiding by the spirit of the law.
Noting that the misdemeanor offenses such as disruption and disorderly conduct would not be against the law if they were committed off school property, West said Senate Bill 393 created “a system whereby school-based violations that are not crimes under state law, can be addressed at the campus or district level.”
The legislation also allows fines to be waived for tutoring, community service or counseling. It also provides for graduated sanctions to be used by schools before filing a complaint and prohibits filing court cases for disruption of class against children younger than 12.
Within days after West’s statement, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wisely issued an interim charge to the Senate Jurisprudence Committee to monitor the implementation of SB393 and a companion bill.
The committee is charged with determining whether any statutory changes are necessary to clarify the bill’s intent, noting the school districts that have put into effect the graduated sanctions. The panel will decide whether additional statutory changes are necessary to ensure districts’ compliance.
This is a law districts should not be permitted to ignore.