News Release
From the Office of State Senator Royce West - District 23

March 17, 2014
For Immediate Release
CONTACT:  Kelvin Bass, 214-467-0123

New tools for school discipline need a chance to work
Short-sighted fixes cause long term problems for youth

by Royce West
Texas Senate

Much wisdom has been passed and many great tales have begun with the phrase, "Well back when I was growing up, we used to...," you can fill in the blank. While mention causes one to reflect, this phrase also rings true today when the discussion turns to school discipline.

Corporal punishment is gone, never to return to the tool box of school discipline. It was replaced in part by in-school and out-of-school suspension. Now-days, many school districts, particularly those in urban areas across Texas and in other places across the country, have created special campuses and programs for problem students; those, who due to their behaviors and disciplinary problems, have been removed from traditional classroom settings. In Texas, they are called Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs and go by the acronym DAEP. And while debate continues over whether or not these campuses provide an adequate curriculum or proper instructional support, students, through graduation or by their return to home campuses, do at some point exit these programs.

However, disciplinary measures put in place in more recent years can have implications for students long past their K-12 experiences. These sanctions, duly enforced via on-campus law enforcement presence, administered with expediency by the courts, and aided by the pervasive use of technology, have become barriers to future success for young people who have moved past youthful indiscretions and now seek to enter the workforce or are looking in the direction of college.

To sum up the problem, student discipline policies used over the past decade have resulted in more and more students - including disproportionate numbers of minority students - receiving citations that are processed in municipal and Justice of the Peace courts, both of which are part of the adult court system. Rather than being sealed under juvenile law, these citations become part of the public record. At the time these young people have set their sights on college or employment prospects, these criminal citations, most for violations that would not be offenses if committed off school property, resurface. They result in denied employment, college applications and scholarships. Is this what parents or school officials really want?

SB393 passed the Texas Legislature and was signed into law, effective September 1, 2013. The bill prohibits the issuance citations to students for Class C misdemeanor offenses such as disruption of class and disorderly conduct that have landed them in the adult court system with criminal history records. It creates a system whereby school-based violations that are not crimes under state law can be addressed at the campus or district level. It also creates a system of sanctions where fines can be waived in lieu of tutoring requirements, involvement in school-based community service or counseling, and allows local school districts or counties to hire juvenile case managers to assist at-risk youth.

SB393 also bans the practice of filing court cases for disruption of class against children younger than 12 years old. These measures put in place come from recommendations made by a Texas Judicial Council created task force spearheaded by former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson.

The new law also institutes a system of graduated sanctions than can be utilized by school officials rather than or prior to filing a complaint with the courts. However, school officials still have the ability to file complaints with the courts, or have students taken into custody for committing acts of violence or other serious violations of state law.

So far, the responses from school officials have been mixed. Rather than working to implement graduated sanctions, or using funding that has been made available to hire juvenile case managers, some schools have increased referrals to DAEP programs or campus police have written up violations as Class B misdemeanors which can still be filed with the courts.

This legislation was never about making things fast and easy for school administrators. If it were your child, would you think a harmless, in-class prank at age 14 should deny college admission, scholarship money or employment four years later? Although the phrase may be recited or claimed all too often, it really should be "all about the children."

For more information, please contact Kelvin Bass at 214-467-0123 or Julie Frank at 512-463-0395.