As Jody Serrano of the Texas Tribune reported yesterday, police officers at Texas schools will not be allowed to issue Class C misdemeanor tickets to students for the following treasonous crimes: chewing gum, class disruption, foul language, fighting with each other, talking back, following rules and damaging school property.
There are a few categories in which you could put laws about the disciplining minors. Depending on your worldview, most laws can be seen as enlightened, reasonable, weak, ineffectual, reactionary, or harsh.
That’s not a spectrum; those are just sentiments you might have about a law based on your view of justice and accountability.
Then there are laws that, if you just asked 100,000 Americans if they made sense, about 99,900 would just laugh and 100 would yell at you to get off their lawn.
Before a law signed in June that takes effect next week, police were allowed to issue tickets to students for the aforementioned grievances. The tickets came with fines and court dates; failure to pay or appear could eventually lead to arrest.
Officers will have the ability to file a complaint against a student for such indiscretions, but it will be up to a prosecutor to actually charge anyone with a misdemeanor. It is worth noting that the new law still permits ticketing for truancy, which accounts for about a third of all the tickets issued in Texas schools.
There is plenty to debate about the role and presence of police officers in schools, and you could talk us into the idea that major property destruction or big group fights might warrant legal ramifications of some kind. As for the other stuff? Teenage YSI would have been paying off tickets for those infractions well into our twenties.
You read the word “draconian” thrown around a lot in discussing ludicrous laws. YSI would submit that draconian isn’t the word for the ticketing regime in Texas schools. Nobody was beheaded. Nobody was locked away in isolation, or had a mental health disorder exacerbated, because of a school ticket.
The word is: Stupid. Taking behavior that can easily be dealt with in the absence of criminal procedure, and doing it anyway, is just a stupid concept. It is not draconian, but it is the kind of needless thing that is more likely to usher kids into the system than teach them any meaningful lesson.
The Texas Supreme Court Justice Wallace Jefferson thought as much.
“What used to be, in our day, a trip to the principal’s office now lands you in court,” he said back in March, supporting the law that ended the ticketing. “We’re overcriminalizing low-level, nonviolent offenses in the classroom.”
Bleeding-heart liberal? Try again. Jefferson is a Republican appointed to his job by Gov. Rick Perry.
Know who else thought it was stupid? The police association whose officers issue the tickets. From Lon Craft, legislative affairs director for the Texas Municipal Police Association, in a report by the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice:
“Craft stated that TMPA, which represents…1,000 campus police, was in favor of limiting the involvement of peace officers [sic] with students for violations of school codes of conduct. He stated that public safety and law and order should be the main focus of police on campus.”
If Texas could demonstrate some staggeringly declining rate of school misbehavior over time, or even that ticketed students stopped misbehaving, it might be tougher to place this in the pantheon of bad ideas. But the fact that the Texas Supreme Court estimates 300,000 tickets are issued each year suggests otherwise.
That, and the fact that pretty much every other state, county and school district in the entire country manages student behavior without involving court fines and appearances.
Youth Services Insider is mostly written by Chronicle Editor-in-Chief John Kelly