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Kleinman op-ed in Houston Chronicle: Schools unfairly target minorities for discipline

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Monday, September 9, 2013

Rachel Kleinman, Assistant Counsel in LDF's Education Group writes an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle this weekend censuring the improper over-reliance on law-enforcement in schools. This practice removes students from supportive educational environments, reinforces stereotypes, and sets our children on a path out of schools and into the criminal justice system.

The piece cites statistics on the Bryan Independent School District and elaborates on a federal civil rights complaint submitted to the Department of Education on behalf of Texas Appleseed about the district's use of criminal misdemeanor tickets to discipline students for minor misbehavior. Eight months later, that complaint still hasn't been investigated...

Reflecting on the aftermath of Trayvon Martin's death and the failed prosecution of his killer, President Barack Obama urged the nation to consider how we can better support African-American boys.

Yet, despite the president's call for our country to take a look at the dire, even fatal, consequences of the persistent criminalization of youth of color, some of the very environments and institutions he implicitly called on to help are actually part of the problem. Schools are unfortunately one of the main culprits.

As children head back to school this fall, many of them have been or will be greeted by an infrastructure seemingly bent on labeling them as criminals. In recent years, in schools across the country, law enforcement officers have taken over the traditional role of teachers and school administrators in disciplining students for minor infractions.

Too often, officers patrolling school hallways do not focus on threats or violence but rather function as the school's disciplinary arm, issuing tickets, citations and summonses, and even arresting children, simply for engaging in normal child-like or adolescent behavior.

This improper overreliance on law-enforcement in schools especially affects youth of color. A sample of school districts across the country shows that more than 70 percent of students involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement by their schools are Latino or African-American.

Take, for example, the community of Bryan. As with many Texas school districts, the Bryan Independent School District stations local police officers at all of its middle and high school campuses. Officers routinely issue criminal misdemeanor tickets to students for minor misbehavior. And even though black students comprise only 21 percent of the enrollment in Bryan ISD, in the 2011-12 school year they received 46 percent of all tickets, and more than half of the tickets for the commonly ticketed minor offenses of "disrupting class" and using profanity.

Earlier this year, the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund and the National Center for Youth Law filed a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of Texas Appleseed and the Brazos County NAACP, claiming that Bryan ISD's use of criminal misdemeanor tickets to discipline students for minor misbehavior violates federal anti-discrimination law and accepted educational practices.

Despite overwhelming evidence of the disparate impact of this ticketing policy on black students and its ineffectiveness in maintaining school safety, the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights has yet to officially open an investigation, more than six months after the complaint was filed. This means Bryan ISD students who recently returned to school again face the prospect of suffering criminal sanctions every time they step through the schoolhouse door.

Click here for the full article