Texas schools are changing the way they handle some student disciplinary infractions, thanks to two new laws passed during the last legislative session.
Senate Bills 1114 and 393 restrict campus police officers’ ability to issue citations for certain minor infractions on school grounds, leaving school administrators, instead of the court system, to handle disciplinary measures.
SB 1114 prohibits certain student disruptions and misbehavior from being categorized as a “criminal offense.” Some of those offenses include using obscene language, fighting (but not assault) and making offensive gestures. Prior to the bill’s passage, campus police could issue Class C misdemeanor citations for such violations.
A Class C citation means a student is charged in a criminal court, and could pay up to $500 in fines, said Mary Mergler, an attorney with nonprofit advocacy group Texas Appleseed.
“They get cited for something minor, and get put in the court system and could possibly have a criminal record,” said Mergler, whose organization advocated for the passage of both bills. “The concurrences can be very severe for something that can be taken care of at the school level.”
If police issue a citation for delinquent conduct on school property, the law will now require them to submit not only a police report, but also a witness statement and a victim statement, if any, for the case to proceed to trial.
SB 393 calls for schools to set up alternative disciplinary options for students, and allows school districts to alternatively sanction students who engage in disorderly conduct.
Rather than receiving citations for misbehavior, students may be subject to progressive sanctions, such as warnings, behavioral contracts, school-based community service and other services aimed at addressing behavioral problems.
If a student receives a citation without being provided a warning or progressive sanctions, the citation will be dismissed.
The goal of the two bills, Mergler said, is to have minor disciplinary issues addressed at the school level instead of by the courts, keeping students from falling into the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“Most of the behavior that is considered a Class C misdemeanor is behavior that needs to be addressed, but is best addressed by administration without involving students in the criminal justice system,” she said.
Start case files
The changes will amount to “slightly” more paperwork for police and school staff, said John Dye, director for school safety.
“Normally we would just write the student a citation,” Dye said. “Now we will create a case file, and send it to the Bell County attorney where it would be screened.”
While groups like Appleseed said the laws were created in response to reports of Texas districts handing out too many criminal citations for minor misbehavior at school, Dye said the Killeen district and, its police, did not fall into that group.
“There are very clear policies for its officers,” Dye said. “We don’t believe that they have fallen into that group.”
While the new laws have some critics, Mergler surmised that shifting some of the responsibility for minor infractions to schools would leave law enforcement better equipped to deal with more serious violations.
“They will now be able to focus on serious incidents that truly deal with school safety,” she said.
Dye said district officers, administration and staff were briefed on the new laws.
“We are going to continue to work together to make sure we are following the laws,” Dye said.