A vestige of the discredited school 'zero tolerance' policies of the last decade is now history in Texas. 1200 WOAI news reprots that a measure approved by lawmakers and which took effect on Sunday strips ISD police officers from writing tickets to students for disciplinary offenses, like running in the hallways or engaging in pushing and shoving in the locker room.
Jennifer Calderon of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, who fought for the new law, says it dates back to the years after the 1999 Columbine Massacre, when school administrators thought the best way to protect students was to crack down hard on all types of behaviors.
"Policies such as 'zero tolerance'," Calderon said.
In addition to embarrassing episodes like the Straight-A honor student being suspended because she had two Midol in her backpack because, hey, it's 'zero tolerance,' and there's nothing we can do about it, ISD police forces were beefed up and were given the responsibility of doing what twenty years ago would have been done by the principal and maybe a paddle.
But Calderon says this led to a disturbing 'school to prison pipeline' which was unfairly singling out minority students. A survey done several years ago showed that 80% of African American high school students in Texas had been ticketed for at least one disciplinary offense.
"We are very happy to see that the Texas Legislature is supportive of progressive sanctions, instead of criminalizing adolescent behavior," she said.
ISD police officers will still be able to write traffic tickets, and will be able to ticket students for offenses which would be a crime outside the school, like any type of sexual assault.
But Calderon and other experts say the result of 'zero tolerance' is that when the student went to the Magistrate or JP court to pay the $150, he or she often didn't realize that they were pleading guilty to an adult court Class C misdemeanor.
That meant that in this day of more and more jobs requiring criminal background checks, students decades later could fail a criminal background check and not get a job due to an infraction in high school which should have been handled by the administration.
Calderon says the new law will empower school administrators by allowing them to adopt 'progressive sanction' against students who misbehave, without saddling them with a lifelong criminal record.
"Student contracts to review of objectionable behavior to bringing in parents, to community service," she said.