Should Schools Treat Misbehaving Kids Like Criminals?
Texas has a reputation for being tough on criminals. It’s known around the world for having the busiest “Death Row” in the United States. Now, for better or worse, Texas is also known for treating young school children like criminals.
In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother. Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.
“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say.
His offense? He got into a scuffle with another kid on a school bus.
In another generation, he would have gotten by with a scolding at worst, but today’s get-tough zero tolerance policies in our schools are bringing misbehaving kids into contact with police and the courts. It’s a trend some experts call the “criminalization of student misbehavior and discipline,” and Texas is leading the way.
Instead of handling discipline on campus on a case by case basis as they did before the advent of Zero Tolerance, Texas public school officials now call police who issue Class C misdemeanor citations for things like offensive language, class disruption, schoolyard fights.
Thousands of students land in court, with fines of up to $500. Students who don’t pay their tickets may be arrested after they turn 17.
If there’s any good news in this, it’s that federal officials have noticed what’s going on in Texas and they’re taking steps to stop it or bring it under control.
A landmark study of discipline in Texas schools recently revealed that students who’ve been suspended from school, even for minor offenses, are three times as likely to be involved in criminal activity within the next year, compared to students who haven’t been suspended.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder says the study shows “Suspensions, expulsions and arrests are used too often to enforce school order…and that is something that clearly has to stop.”