SENATE APPROVES SCHOOL DISCIPLINE CHANGES
|Senator Steve Ogden (far right) welcomed the 2011 NCAA Women's Basketball Champs, the Texas A&M Lady Aggies to the Senate floor Tuesday.|
(AUSTIN) — The Senate approved three bills Tuesday, April 26, aimed at improving the way schools discipline students. The first measure, SB 1489 by Houston Senator John Whitmire, intends to encourage districts to deal with excessive truancy in school rather than in the courts. Whitmire said that there were more than 100,000 tickets issued to students last year for truancy, some to children as young as eleven. His bill would require school districts to develop anti-truancy programs to help children attend school. If a child didn't respond to the programs, they could be issued a ticket, as long as the student is 12 or older. The school must submit to the court the diversionary steps it took to help the student improve attendance. "When you write people Class C Misdemeanor [tickets], it does not fix the reason they're not going to school," said Whitmire. "Hopefully, this is a step forward to decriminalize that conduct, but at the same time deal with the root cause."
The second bill, SB 1116 also by Whitmire, takes aim at the practice of writing tickets to students for simple bad behavior. Whitmire said it has become common to write tickets to students as young as 10 for simple misbehavior, such as chewing gum or being out of one's seat in class. "This introduces the young person to the criminal justice system, labels them, and often times leads to more involvement in the criminal justice system." SB 1116 would require any officer issuing a ticket to attach witness and victim statements when issuing the complaint to the court, and would prohibit prosecution unless these steps are followed.
The third bill, SB 718 by Senator Leticia Van de Putte of San Antonio, would reserve expulsion into an alternative education program for serious offenses. It would do this by deleting a single word in the relevant education code. "persistent". Van de Putte said that her research showed that most kids in diversionary alternative education programs (DAEP) are there for behavior that is persistent but not serious, like falling asleep in class. "That was not the purpose of [the program] when we did it," she said. By deleting that single word, only serious violations of conduct could get a student sent to an alternative school.
All three bills now head to the House for consideration.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, April 27 at 11 a.m.