Texas school districts continue to rely on law enforcement and the courts to handle student discipline that used to be handled by teachers and administrators, according to a comprehensive report from Texas Appleseed and Texans Care for Children.
“These policies, practices and consequences are part of the ‘school-to-prison pipeline,’” the advocacy groups say in the executive summary of “Dangerous Discipline.” The findings mirror those in Texas Appleseed’s 2010 and 2013 reports.
“Texas school districts continue to rely on police officers, juvenile probation, and courts to address low-level, school-based behaviors, despite an ever-growing body of research showing the many ways these methods harm you,” the latest report says.
Among other things, the practices saddle students with a criminal record and sometimes fines, and bring long-term psychological, emotional and social consequences.
“We know that school districts really continue to rely inappropriately on police officers to essentially handle discipline that would have been handled by a vice principal or an educator in the classroom years ago,” Morgan Craven of Texas Appleseed told Houston Public Media.
Included in the report is a New York Times video on the rise of harsh school discipline in the United States:
On a positive note, the report cites the Dallas Independent School District’s adoption of a pilot program using restorative discipline that led to a 70 percent reduction in in-school suspensions, a 77 percent drop in out-of-school suspensions, and a 50 percent drop in alternative school placements in one year.
The report notes that high-profile shootings in schools in the United States in recent years have contributed to an increase in the use of school police officers, but says that such extremely dangerous incidents in schools are rare and that the officers end up handling relatively minor infractions.
It finds that along with disorderly conduct and curfew violations, the infractions most often cited for students in Texas are disruptive classroom behavior and disruption of transportation. Also mentioned is possession of tobacco and drug paraphernalia on campus.
Overly punitive discipline is pervasive in Texas schools, the report says, noting that students of color and those with disabilities are “over-represented in school-based arrests, court referrals, use of force incidents, and referrals to juvenile probation.”
“The over-representation of black and Latino youth in our arrest, complaint and probation and court referrals data is disturbing,” Craven, director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project, told the Texas Observer. “We know from years of research that children of color are not more likely to misbehave than their peers, and yet they continue to be punished at disproportionately high rates. The current system of overly punitive school discipline results in discriminatory outcomes.”
The report includes a slideshow sampling of “alarming student-police interactions” in Texas and the U.S., including the case of MacArthur High School student Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested in 2015 by officers in the Irving ISD for building a clock that authorities thought might be a bomb, and that of McKinney Police Cpl. Eric Casebolt, who resigned from the police force after video showed him pulling a 15-year-old girl to the ground and pinning her down outside a pool party in 2015.
It says that the Legislature has helped curtail the school-to-prison flow in recent years, such as by decriminalizing truancy in 2015, but that more reform is needed. It notes that on average Texas school districts in its relatively small sampling are spending more than twice as much on police as on counselors.
Among its recommendations are that state policymakers and school districts clarify the appropriate role for school police; provide better training for teachers and administrators, staff and officers; and hire counselors and staff trained to promote a positive school climate. It asks the Legislature to eliminate the criminal components of Class C misdemeanors for juveniles and to keep 10-to 12-year-olds out of the juvenile justice system.
Read the full report here.