Texas Appleseed and Texans Care for Children work to address the policies and practices that push Texas youth out of school, increasing the likelihood of grade retention, dropout, and a number of other negative consequences. These policies, practices, and consequences are part of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” a process through which harmful classroom removals, school police, and the justice system are used to address student behavior.
The data collected and presented in this report show that 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 youth. Youth of color and youth with disabilities are over-represented in school-based arrests, court referrals, use of force incidents, and referrals to juvenile probation, further demonstrating the need to address the system of overly-punitive discipline that is pervasive in Texas schools.
In the past five years, a number of new laws have impacted the school-to-prison pipeline. In 2013, the Texas legislature eliminated two Class C misdemeanor offenses, Disruption of Class and Disruption of Transportation, for students at school. Further, the legislature prohibited police officers from writing tickets to youth on their home campuses, instead requiring that a more formal complaint process be followed in order to charge students with Class C misdemeanor offenses. In 2015, the legislature eliminated the criminal offense of Failure to Attend School and required that school police officers in districts with more than 30,000 students undergo youth-focused training.
These changes in the law have certainly reduced the number of tickets/complaints that are issued to Texas students and have provided some protections to the many students who attend schools where police officers patrol halls and classrooms. Still, the problems inherent in school policing and court interventions persist, highlighting the need for additional reform. Parents, students, educators, advocates, and lawmakers must continue to be vigilant and pass laws, address policies, and end practices that harm children.
The following report contextualizes the use of police and court interventions in schools within the larger world of criminal justice practices and reforms, highlights the improvements and enduring dangers of an overly-punitive school discipline system, and provides analysis from extensive data collection and research into the arrests, court referrals, use of force incidents, school climate, and juvenile probation referrals directly from schools that impact Texas students.
Research and data collected and analyzed by Texas Appleseed and Texans Care for Children show:
- Overall, school-based tickets, complaints, arrests, and use of force incidents dropped dramatically following historic shifts in the state’s treatment of non-violent classroom misbehavior in 2013, but have since largely plateaued.
- Statewide, 59,054 non-traffic Class C misdemeanor cases were filed against juveniles in 2015-16.
- Of the 59,637 arrests and referrals of youth to juvenile probation in calendar year 2015, at least 16,814, or 28%, resulted from behavior that occurred on campus or at a school-related event. That’s 5.3 arrests and referrals per 1,000 youth statewide.
Complaints Continue to be Issued in Schools, Usually for Low-Level Infractions:
- Between 2011 and 2015, the districts in the data set issued 41,304 tickets and complaints to students in schools.
- The vast majority of tickets and complaints issued by school police officers were for relatively low-level offenses, but carry high costs for students.
- The proportion of citations issued for Disorderly Conduct recently increased from 18% of school-based complaints in 2013-14 to 29% of school-based complaints in 2014-15. If left unchecked, school police could rely on Disorderly Conduct charges to effectively replace Disruption of Class and Disruption of Transportation—two school-based offenses prohibited by the legislature in 2013.
Most School-based Arrests are for Low-level Infractions:
- Between 2011 and 2015, students in the districts in the data set were arrested 29,136 times.
- About half of the arrests made by school police officers were for Class C misdemeanors, which are relatively low-level offenses, but which carry high costs for students.
Top 10 Highest Arrest Averages, All Offense Levels (2011-2015)
Despite Poor Data Collection, it is Clear that Districts of All Sizes Continue to Use Force Against Students:
- Use of force data were less available than ticketing, complaint, and arrest data, and record-keeping for this type of incident was inconsistent, even within districts.
- Based on available data, Ector County ISD, Aransas County ISD, and East Central ISD had the highest rates of use of force over the past four years.
Use of Force Incidents by District (2011-2015)
Schools and School Police are Over-reliant on Juvenile Probation to Address School Behavior:
- The most common offenses that lead youth to juvenile probation directly from school are misdemeanor drug offenses (e.g., possession of marijuana), misdemeanor assault (e.g., school yard fights), and “other misdemeanors,” which includes offenses like disruptive behavior at school (disrupting lawful assembly at school), harassment, and disorderly conduct with three priors, among others. These three offense categories alone make up more than half of all referrals to juvenile probation from schools.
- School districts in some counties refer youth to juvenile probation at rates that are much higher than the state average. Youth in three counties—Webb, Lubbock, and Brazos—were referred to juvenile probation for school-based behavior at a rate three times the statewide rate.
Youth of Color are Over-represented in Tickets/Complaints, Arrests, Juvenile Probation Referrals, and Use of Force Incidents:
- While Black and Latino students are not more likely to misbehave than their White peers, Black youth, and to a lesser degree Latino youth, are much more likely to have their behavior addressed by school police officers than their White peers.
- Black students received 32% of tickets and complaints, 22% of arrests, and 40% of use of force incidents from 2011-2015, though they comprise only 13% of total student enrollment in Texas.
- In many of the sampled districts with the highest rates of tickets and complaints, Black students received two to four times as many disciplinary actions as their representation in the student body from 2011 to 2015. In Austin ISD, for example, 20% of tickets and complaints went to Black students, who make up just 8% of the district’s students overall. In Dallas ISD 49% of tickets and complaints went to Black students, who make up about 23% of Dallas ISD’s student population.
- Of all youth who were referred to juvenile probation from schools in 2015, 25% were Black, 53% were Latino, 21% were White and 1% were classified as “Other.” Statewide population data show that, among youth ages 10 to 17, 14% are Black, 46% are Latino, 34% are White, and 6% are classified as “Other.”
- Statewide, Black youth were referred to juvenile probation for school-related offenses at a rate 2.86 times higher than their White peers. Statewide, Latino youth are referred to juvenile probation at a rate 1.87 times higher than their White peers.
Students with Disabilities are Over-represented in Tickets/Complaints, Arrests, and Use of Force Incidents in Schools:
- Only 14 school districts in our sample could provide data disaggregated by special education status, but the data we did receive show that students with disabilities were over-represented in tickets/complaints, arrests, and use of force incidents. Notably, youth with disabilities experienced more than twice as many arrests as their representation in the student body: 24% of arrests versus 9% of student enrollment.
Even Very Young Students are Policed and Referred to Courts and Probation:
- Elementary school students have received an increasing percentage of complaints/tickets, arrests, and use of force incidents over the four years for which data were collected. Middle school students have received as much as 36% of complaints/tickets, 33% of arrests, and 45% of use of force incidents—more than high schoolers in the data set.
- Since 2012, school districts have charged 10- and 11-year-olds with Class C misdemeanors 30 times, in clear violation of the 2011 law that prohibited these charges for students so young.
- Dallas ISD reported two use of force incidents by police against six-year-old students.
- Younger students who are referred to juvenile probation are even more likely to be referred for school-based behavior than older youth. In 2015, at least 46% of referrals to juvenile probation for 10- to 12-year-olds came from schools.
- While schools referred Latino and White 10-year-olds to probation at roughly the same rate, 11-, 12- and 13-year-old Latino youth were referred to probation at nearly double the rate of White youth.
- Black youth were referred to juvenile probation for school-based behavior at a rate of 2.5 to 3.5 times the rate of White youth in all age groups. In fact, statewide, 12-year-old Black youth were referred to juvenile probation for school-based offenses at the same rate as 15- and 16-year-old White youth.
Boys are Over-represented in Tickets/Complaints, Arrests, and Use of Force Incidents in Schools:
- Boys received approximately 74% of disciplinary actions in the data set, though they only represent approximately 51% of total student enrollment.
Students in Juvenile Facilities Report Previous, Negative Interactions with School Police:
- Out of 425 currently-incarcerated youth who were surveyed, 64% reported being repeatedly stopped or questioned by school police before entering a Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facility, beginning between ages 12 and 13 on average.
- 66% of youth surveyed had been ticketed or sent to court by a school police officer or school official at least once before entering a TJJD facility, and 35% of youth surveyed had been arrested by a school police officer before entering a TJJD facility.
- Most youth in the study reported seeing or interacting with police at school nearly every day (the mean response was 4 out of 5 days per week). However, rather than make students feel safer, survey participants reported overwhelmingly negative interactions with school police officers not just personally but also in their observations of officers’ interactions with their peers.
TJJD Youths’ Recent Firsthand Experiences with School Police Officers (2015)
- Youth reported rather unwelcoming and unsupportive school climates before entering TJJD facilities. After having mostly negative experiences with school police officers in the past, presently incarcerated youth hold largely negative attitudes toward police officers and are not particularly hopeful that they will make schools safe.
School Police Programs are Costly:
- Public school districts with internal police departments spend about $75 per student enrolled on school police programs each year, a figure that has been increasing steadily over the past four years despite research showing the harms of current school policing practices and decreasing crime rates statewide.
- Overall, Texans paid $79 million for school police programs across our relatively small sample of 53 school districts with financial data (out of 1,247 total districts in 2014-15). This means that, on average, each of the 53 school districts from the sample spent over $1.4 million on school police officer programs. This expenditure far exceeds the average amount spent on counselor salaries in each of Texas’ 1,247 school districts: approximately $534,000 per district.
Based on the findings in this report, Texas Appleseed and Texans Care for Children recommend the following policy changes:
1. ELIMINATE THE CRIMINAL COMPONENTS OF CLASS C MISDEMEANORS FOR JUVENILES
The data in this report clearly show that students in Texas schools are still being arrested and sent to court for Class C misdemeanors frequently. In 2015, the Texas legislature decriminalized truancy. Now, truancy is a civil offense, still heard in Justice and Municipal courts, but without the fines and threat of a criminal record that the criminal offense carried. The legislature recognized the harms associated with fining youth and saddling them with criminal records.
The Texas legislature should eliminate fines for juveniles convicted of Class C misdemeanors and require automatic expunction of all records related to charges for Class C offenses. Common Class C offenses include Disorderly Conduct and Curfew Violation. Class C offenses could still be heard in Justice and Municipal courts, but the most harmful consequences of being charged with a criminal offense—fines and lasting criminal records—should be eliminated.
2. EXPAND YOUTH-FOCUSED TRAINING TO POLICE IN ALL TEXAS SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Following the passage of House Bill 2684 in 2015, police officers in all school districts in Texas with more than 30,000 students are required to have at least 16 hours of youth-focused training, including training in child and adolescent psychology, research-based conflict resolution techniques, de-escalation techniques, the mental and behavioral needs of children with disabilities, and mental health crisis intervention. The hours required for this training are part of, not in addition to, the 40 hours of training that any officer in Texas is required to have in order to maintain his or her license. Unfortunately the law does not require training for officers in small- and medium-sized districts.
The Texas legislature should expand the youth-focused training requirements of HB 2684 so that they apply to officers who interact with students in all school districts in Texas.
3. IMPROVE DATA COLLECTION ON POLICE ACTIVITIES IN SCHOOLS
Currently there are no laws in Texas that require the collection and publication of data related to school-based arrests, use of force incidents, and citations/complaints. Students in Texas schools are restrained, come into contact with Tasers and pepper spray, and are sent to court, all without required disclosure to the public. It is impossible to understand the scope of the problem without mandatory, standardized data collection.
The Texas legislature should task the Texas Judicial Council with developing a system of data collection that will require school district police departments, local police departments that assign or send their officers to schools, and courts to collect and report data related to school-based arrests that send youth to both the juvenile justice system and the adult criminal justice system, use of force incidents, and court contact.
4. ELIMINATE THE USE OF TASERS AND PEPPER SPRAY ON STUDENTS
Police officers in Texas schools are authorized to carry Tasers and pepper spray for use against students. The use of these weapons harms students and can be dangerous and disruptive for bystanders and the general school environment. Juvenile probation departments in Texas have recognized these harms and have prohibited the use Tasers and pepper spray in their facilities.
The Texas legislature should ban the use of Tasers and pepper spray in situations that do not involve a weapon in Texas public schools.
5. ESTABLISH APPROPRIATE COUNSELOR-TO-POLICE RATIOS IN SCHOOLS
Research points to the efficacy of using prevention and intervention measures to encourage positive student behavior and address trauma and student needs. School counselors and other mental health professionals like social workers and psychologists are great resources for students, and are often able to identify and address underlying causes of student behaviors, without relying on school police or court intervention. The average student-to-counselor ratio in Texas is 470:1. The American Counseling Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250:1. High schools that maintain one school counselor for every 250 students have shown lower disciplinary incidents, as well as better graduation and school attendance rates.
The Texas legislature should encourage investment in high-quality counselors and other mental health professionals in schools by establishing a minimum 4:1 ratio of school-based counselors and other mental health professionals to school-based law enforcement officers. This ratio would not create additional costs for districts, but would simply allow districts to shift funds so that they are used to address and prevent behavioral problems with meaningful services, rather than simply punish them after they occur.
6. ELIMINATE THE OFFENSE OF DISORDERLY CONDUCT
In 2013, the Texas legislature eliminated the Class C offenses of Disruption of Class and Disruption of Transportation. Just by ending ticketing for these two offenses, the issuing of citations decreased by over 50%. Our data show, however, that the proportion of Disorderly Conduct complaints filed actually increased for some students following the Disruption of Class and Transportation bans, suggesting that Disorderly Conduct has replaced Disruption of Class and Transportation as a general catch-all offense.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a Statement of Interest in Kenny v. Wilson, a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. In the suit, the Plaintiffs—a proposed class of students and a youth organization—challenge South Carolina’s “Disturbing Schools” and “Disorderly Conduct” statutes. The Department asserts that the racial disparities in the enforcement of criminal statutes, like Disorderly Conduct, “may indicate that [they are] unconstitutionally vague,” in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Due Process protections.
The Texas legislature should eliminate the ability of districts to file complaints against students on their home campuses for the offense of Disorderly Conduct.
7. RAISE THE AGE OF JUVENILE COURT JURISDICTION
Currently, all youth age 17 and older in the state of Texas are considered adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system. With the exception of some youth on juvenile probation, 17-year-old students who are arrested at school are taken to the county jail. Even though these students are juniors and seniors in high school, they do not receive the protections of the juvenile system, their parents do not have to be notified of their arrest, and their record for school misbehavior will follow them throughout their life as a criminal record.
The Texas legislature should raise the age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that 17 year olds are treated the same as other youth.
8. KEEP 10-12 YEAR OLDS OUT OF THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM
Only 11% of all youth who are referred to juvenile probation are 10-12 years old. However, at least 46% of those 10- to 12-year-olds are referred to probation because of school-related behaviors. Referrals to probation increase the likelihood that youth will be involved in the justice system later in life. These young kids would be more appropriately served through Community Resource Groups, local Systems of Care, and other services providers. Schools that cannot provide appropriate interventions and behavioral supports to these young students can refer them to the same service providers juvenile probation refers youth to, and can also get youth the supports they need through local Community Resource Groups, a local System of Care, and prevention and early intervention providers.
The Texas legislature should raise the lower age of juvenile court jurisdiction so that 10-12 year olds are kept out of the juvenile justice system and instead get intervention and services in more age-appropriate settings.
9. REQUIRE DISTRICTS TO ADDRESS SCHOOL CLIMATE IN PLANNING EFFORTS
Schools with positive school climates experience fewer disciplinary problems, a greater sense of safety on campus, and improved student performance. Beginning in 2017, the Texas Education Agency will be required to include measures of school quality, climate, and safety in its plans to support Title I schools as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaced No Child Left Behind.
Texas should require districts to include measures of school climate as a performance measure in District Improvement Plans, along with strategies to promote safe and supportive school climates, including trauma-informed practices and positive behavior management strategies.
TEXAS EDUCATION AGENCY
1. CONTINUE TO FUND TRAINING FOR RESEARCH-BASED PRACTICES
Research-based practices, like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), and the Restorative Practices model encourage positive student behavior and reduce the need for classroom exclusions, police contact, and court intervention.
The Texas Education Agency should utilize the expertise within the state’s institutes of higher education and other entities to promote safe and supportive school climates by developing partnerships between these groups and Regional Education Service Centers (ESCs). Through these partnerships, all school districts in Texas can have access to research-based strategies shown to promote school success and reduce reliance on harmful and overly-punitive discipline measures.
Further, the Texas Education Agency should leverage funding made available through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to promote safe and supportive learning environments for all students. School districts can now use professional development (Title II) funds to train school personnel on strategies such as making referrals for students with or at-risk of trauma or mental illness, forming partnerships with community mental health providers, and addressing issues related to school learning conditions. ESSA also establishes a new grant program schools can use to fund efforts like promoting supportive school climates and supportive school discipline, providing school-based mental health services, dropout prevention, bullying prevention, and establishing community partnerships and parent involvement.
2. PROVIDE SCHOOL DISTRICTS WITH GUIDANCE ON IMPLEMENTING EFFECTIVE PRACTICES
Often, educators and administrators ask where they can find resources for their students or how they can access training related to research-based programs to address student behavior.
The Texas Education Agency should should identify and disseminate information on resources districts can use to promote safe and supportive school climates. TEA and the Department of State Health Services are already required to jointly maintain a list of recommended best practice-based programs related to mental health promotion, prevention, and intervention for schools to reference. This list should be expanded to include best practices related to creating positive school climates, including resources that address student needs (such as mental health services and trauma-informed practices) and staff training needs (such as implementing research-based practices shown to reduce classroom removals and school police contact).
TEXAS JUVENILE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT
1. IMPROVE DATA COLLECTION & TRACKING FOR REFERRALS OF SCHOOL-BASED OFFENSES
Currently, the data reporting system that juvenile probation departments use to track referrals of youth does not require that information be included in the school-related location data field. As a result, it is likely that a number of probation departments under-report the number of referrals for school-based offenses. The reporting system also has a field that allows probation departments to identify who made a referral, including law enforcement or a school official. However, it is understood that this data is inconsistent as some enter the data based on location while others may use the data field to track whether the youth came in by an arrest from law enforcement or referral from a school official. When school police are tracked as law enforcement, it is unclear whether it was school-based law enforcement or law enforcement outside of school that made the arrest. It is impossible to understand the scope of the problem of school-based juvenile probation arrests and referrals without standardized data collection.
The Texas Juvenile Justice Department should standardize data collection and reporting for school-related location and referral sources so that it is clear how many youth are referred to juvenile probation for school-related offenses and whether the referral is from law enforcement or school officials.
1. REDUCE STUDENT-POLICE CONTACT BY DECREASING RELIANCE ON SCHOOL POLICE OFFICERS TO ADDRESS MINOR BEHAVIORS
School-based police officers are too involved in addressing student behavior that should be handled by educators, counselors, and school administrators. Officers should not be patrolling hallways, classrooms, and cafeterias. Rather, they should be called from their offices when there are incidents that actually impact school safety. If contact between officers and students is reduced in this way, there will be fewer incidents that inappropriately result in arrests, citations, and uses of force against students.
Texas school districts should reduce student-police contact by requiring that officers be stationed in their offices until they are called to address actual threats to school safety.
2. ENCOURAGE SCHOOLS TO ADOPT RESEARCH-BASED ALTERNATIVES
School districts across the country have started to adopt research-based alternatives to reduce the use of exclusionary discipline, police, and courts (See Best Practices Section). These methods, like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) and Restorative Practices encourage positive student behavior and safe school climates. Investment in these methods will provide long-term benefits for schools and will reduce reliance on harmful, overly-punitive practices. The Texas Education Agency already provides resources for the implementation of Restorative Practices, PBIS, and Social and Emotional Learning.
Texas school districts should equip educators and administrators with the tools and resources they need to implement research-based methods to address student behavior, improve class management, and create positive school climates. Funds for these tools and resources can be shifted from security budgets and can be obtained through the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
3. REVISE MEMORANDA OF UNDERSTANDING AND DISTRICT POLICIES THAT ADDRESS THE DUTIES OF SCHOOL-BASED LAW ENFORCEMENT
Often the expectations and duties of police officers in schools are not clear to administrators, teachers, and even officers themselves. School-based police officers should only be involved in situations that threaten the safety of students and staff. They should not be called to address minor misbehaviors that would be more appropriately handled by a teacher or administrator in the school setting.
Texas school districts should revise memoranda of understanding that exist between the district and the local law enforcement agency and any other documents that address the duties of police officers within the school district to explicitly limit the involvement of police officers to situations that clearly threaten school safety.
4. CREATE SCHOOL POLICE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEES
Students, parents, and educators have the right to be involved in the hiring and oversight of school police officers.
Texas school districts should create oversight committees that have the power to review applications for officers who want to work in the school district, conduct officer evaluations, investigate complaints, and review data. These committees should be comprised of students, parents, educators, and community-based advocates.
5. PROVIDE TRAINING TO EDUCATORS, ADMINISTRATORS, STAFF, AND OFFICERS TO ELIMINATE BIAS
In order to address the biases that may inform their actions, educators, administrators, staff, and school police officers should be trained to recognize biases and should learn skills to limit the impact that those biases have on their interactions with students.
Texas school districts should provide training in de-biasing techniques to everyone in the district who interacts with students.
6. HIRE STAFF THAT IS TRAINED TO PROMOTE A POSITIVE SCHOOL CLIMATE
Counselors and other staff members who are trained in research-based methods to addressing student behavior and promoting positive, safe school climates can be effective in understanding student and family needs and connecting them with services when appropriate. There are a number of recommended staff positions, including community intervention workers, restorative justice coordinators, and community school resource coordinators that can meet this role.
Texas school districts should hire staff members that promote a positive school climate in order to reduce reliance on law enforcement officers who are not equipped to address student needs.
Deborah Fowler, Executive Director, Texas Appleseed
Morgan Craven, Director of the School-to-Prison Pipeline Project, Texas Appleseed
Yamanda Wright, Ph.D., Director of Research, Texas Appleseed
Lauren Rose, Director of Youth Justice Policy, Texans Care for Children
Kelli Johnson, Communications Director, Texas Appleseed
Report published December 2016.
We are appreciative of the hard work of the Texas Appleseed staff, volunteers and interns, including Director of the Criminal Justice Project Mary Mergler, Community Outreach Coordinator Rocio Villalobos, Development Associate Jamie Tegeler-Sauer, Staff Attorney Brett Merfish, David Infortunio (Open Austin), and interns Kara Mitchell, Emily Eby, Eva Sikes, Kiah Debolt, and Yasmine Smith.
Thank you to the staff at Texans Care for Children who contributed to this report, including CEO Stephanie Rubin, Director of Mental Health Policy Josette Saxton, and Communications Director Peter Clark.
Thank you to the many other advocates who have contributed to this report and who work tirelessly in pursuit of just and equitable outcomes for children, including Jennifer Carreon, Matt Simpson (the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas), Dustin Rynders (Disability Rights Texas), Meredith Parekh (Disability Rights Texas), Shiloh Carter (Disability Rights Texas), Dr. Courtney Robinson (The Excellence and Advancement Foundation), Ranjana Natarajan (University of Texas School of Law), Monique Dixon (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.), Elizabeth Olsson (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.), Elizabeth Henneke (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition), Jay Jenkins (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition), Margaret Clifford (University of Texas School of Law), Pamela Foster Davis, Kathryn Newell (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), Tovah Pentalovich (Texas RioGrande Legal Aid), and the many other individuals and organizations that have produced materials that were used in this report.
We are most grateful to the many students and families who shared their stories with us and took time to fill out surveys and provide interviews. We thank the many people who have helped to collect those stories, surveys, and interviews, including the Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Michael Turner (Texas Juvenile Justice Department, Kaci Singer (Texas Juvenile Justice Department), Niccole Lewis, Educators in Solidarity, and Paige Duggins and the student volunteers from the University of Texas School of Law.
Texas Appleseed’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Project is generously supported by The Atlantic Philanthropies, Houston Endowment, The Simmons Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Harold Simmons Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.