Texas schoolchildren get criminal citations for cussing in class, shouting within 500' of school

In The Guardian, Chris McGreal looks at the horrific state of policing in Texas schools. The age of criminal responsibility in Texas is 10, and many schools have uniformed police officers on site who ticket small children for throwing paper airplanes or flipping the teacher off. The tickets carry steep fines, and if you graduate with unpaid fines, you go to prison.

Among the more extreme cases documented by Appleseed is of a teacher who had a pupil arrested after the child responded to a question as to where a word could be found in a text by saying: "In your culo (arse)", making the other children laugh. Another pupil was arrested for throwing paper aeroplanes.

Students are also regularly fined for "disorderly behaviour", which includes playground scraps not serious enough to warrant an assault charge or for swearing or an offensive gesture. One teenage student was arrested and sent to court in Houston after he and his girlfriend poured milk on each other after they broke up. Nearly one third of tickets involve drugs or alcohol. Although a relatively high number of tickets – up to 20% in some school districts – involve charges over the use of weapons, mostly the weapons used were fists.

The very young are not spared. According to Appleseed, Texas records show more than 1,000 tickets were issued to primary schoolchildren over the past six years (although these have no legal force at that age). Appleseed said that "several districts ticketed a six-year-old at least once in the last five years".

The US schools with their own police


  1. Is there any stats or follow-up on how many tickets were written for teachers?

    You can’t really call it fair policing if you’re hired to only charge *some* of the people in the building. You know, the people who aren’t paying your paycheque, the people who are too young to defend themselves physically, intelligently or financially.

    1. I don’t think the teachers are paying the police, and honestly, the problem here is not with the teachers, but with the parents who think their child can do no wrong, and the legislators and supervisors which seem to be intent on making sure that the only possible recourse teachers have is punishment. These people tend not to be in the buildings, where they can see the irresponsibility of their actions.

      1. There is no reason for a student to be ARRESTED just for saying a joke with a cruse word in it (arse?  really?  that constitutes arresting a child?).  This is indeed a problem with the teachers/administrators, for thinking they should be ARRESTING CHILDREN for cursing or being piss-ants.

        This is the same bullshit the War On Drugs is based on:  Arrest!  Punish!  Throw in prison!  IT NEVER WORKS.

        I used to work in a jail (not a prison), and shit, if you think sending kids to prison or jail is a positive thing, you’re naive.  Criminals.  Drugs.  That’s what a child is now going to get exposed to just because he or she couldn’t pay some fines for saying ass a few times.

        1. I should have been clearer with my position, I entirely agree with your post. I certainly do not think these arrests are a positive thing, they appall me. That child should never have been arrested, that teacher was wrong to do so. 
          However, teachers as a whole, they did not decide to bestow this capability of arrest upon themselves. I am willing to bet the vast majority of teachers find it abhorrent, unfortunately some do not it would seem.Teachers as a group do not deserve to be blamed for the actions of a tiny minority of their colleagues, the blame lies with the group of people who decided that teachers need this capability in the first place. The group of people who thought this would be a good idea, the same group of people who keep on cutting teaching jobs and cutting payment for teachers.

          The USA seems to have some of the lowest quality schooling (outside of universities, that is) in the first world. Conversely, the teachers are often of a very high standard, matching countries that far outperform the USA scholastically. Yet the teachers continually take the blame, and I am sick and tired of it. 

          The reason that these schools perform so poorly is the attitude taken in regulating them. Schools not doing to well? ARREST PEOPLE (it costs less than giving them an education!) – words fail me. How about increase funding for extracurricular activities? Or even decent funding for the normal, curricular classes? You know, learning and shit? Smaller classes would be nice, they allow for more personal engagement and better learning – but they cost money. Take a hint from the countries running circles around you, and give schools what they need, instead of turning them into god damned prisons.

    1. You have to make sure the riffraff can’t vote either.  Just let them out to pump gas for your Mercedes.

  2. I’m sure that this can only breed perfectly well-adjusted, authority-respecting young adults for the future! What a stupendous plan, but why stop at ten or six, fine the newborns that cry, it’ll take care of that real quick!

  3. The article says “hundreds of schools across the state.” While the existence of  legislation supporting this behaviour is itself shocking I am hoping this is a tiny percentage of Texan schools.

    Is this correct or is this situation even more insane that it first appears?

    1. I have lived in this miserable State for my entire life. I also went to school in Austin and Dallas during the early part of this escalation, and from what I have seen things have only gotten worse since that time.  Gen X era types here went to schools in a totally different environment, and it is amazing to some one in my “in between” generation to have gotten to see the transition. I don’t know about rural Texas, but in the cities this is normal and what they say about the kids getting so much “worse” only exposes how much worse the conditions at the school and the expectations for them by schools and government have gotten. I have been in both “good” schools and “bad” schools, and the only difference I have seen is one of privilege. In nice private schools kids are not nicer or better behaved, but they do *think* they are and/or know others do. The idea is that they are intrinsically better, and that feeling is palpable.  Parents who can’t or won’t pay out for that often try to move around to get their kids into a “good” public school too, and then feel a great sense of entitlement about protecting their perfect little child from the evils.  These are the people voting against the interests of their own children. It all gets marketed very well, and it pays a lot because a lot of money is made in this state off of crime. The good news though is that we have the death penalty!
      (Aside: Oh holy crap how I hope I am able to move from this hellhole within this decade…)

        1. It’s not that hard. Go to night school for and ESL certificate and get a job teaching English overseas. You won’t make a lot of money, but you’ll be out of the US. If night school is too much trouble, or teaching isn’t your thing, then getting out is not very important to you.

          1. How patronizing. Obviously, only a lack of pluck and determination could keep someone stranded here!

            I finally managed to get my passport sorted out, but I will not be able to get state-level identification sorted out for the forseeable future. I hope you can understand that bad documentation, due to the state’s mistakes, could be an obstacle.

            And that’s not to mention people who can’t leave the country because they are too poor, they have too many health problems, they have trouble with languages, they got put on one or another list, or for that matter, they went to this school in Texas, and got screwed by it.

          2. I never claimed that SOME people don’t have obstacles that would keep them stranded, but by and large, most people are not immovably trapped in the US. Especially not trapped in one state. No one is going to stop the average person from crossing state lines.

            I’ve met far too many people who overcame enormous difficulties to either leave or get to the US to think that it’s impossible for most of the people who want out. Again, MOST.

      1. For what its worth, my sister recently moved to Houston where she is working as a schoolteacher. Texas is a still very much a new and surprising place for her so she is far from being an expert but she says that there are no police or even security guards at her school, which is a private Catholic school.

        What surprises her most in Texas (she has moved there from Europe) is the large gulf between rich and poor and the difference this makes to the health and education of the children.

        1. I would not expect such things at a private Catholic school either. That is why people send their child to a private Catholic school, after all. 

          1. So is this an issue purely for public schools or is it popular enough with parents that some will pay to have their children educated in such an environment?

        2. “So is this an issue purely for public schools or is it popular enough with parents that some will pay to have their children educated in such an environment?”

          I’m replying to this comment here because we have run out of space. 

          It depends. There are paid correctional or alternative schools that can be amazingly like torture porn, particularly popular with parents who have gay kids. But that is a part of a separate issue. 
          This is all about getting money really out of poor people. Consider our terrible luck with truancy fines in this state (the kids most likely to miss school surprisingly tend to have parents who can’t or won’t pay) could have already informed us as to how this would go.

           Most parents who send their kids to a private school do so because they want a better education for their kids and therefore do not want to have their children exposed to the sort of “unsavory influences” that are in the large sprawling urban and lesser suburban schools. Most of the situation in public schools is just class friction with the catalyst of a rapidly plummeting working class deluded into thinking it is middle class and desperate to create distinction between itself and the lowest urban class (and recent immigrants) by appealing to a completely unscrupulous class of exploitative dirtbags who make money off of their heavy investments in textbook publishing, standardized testing,prisons,  and unskilled labor. You can think of this as the real cost of low taxes.

          Yeeehaw! Now reality is depressing me too much. I’m going to go drink scotch with my other fortunate friends and pretend to be blithely ignorant of suffering in the world for a while. 

          Edit: I’m adding one thing here and that is just a reiteration of the fact that I have no idea what rural Texas is like. What I have noticed is that it seems very foreign to me.

  4. So I guess this is what “small government” means; free reign for big business and the rich, and harsh authoritarianism for the rest.

    1. Yes.  This is exactly what “small government” means to those who utter that phrase without snickering.

  5. On the plus side most nannies don’t wear jackboots, so this should ensure that the Children of Texas will be safe from the crushing grip of the nanny state…

  6. The tactician in me likes how Texan secessionism has taken a turn from “withdraw from the Union via armed conflict” to “withdraw from the Union by being such detestable fascist yokel assholes that the Union will kick us out by their own volition.”

    Well played, Texas. Well played.

    1. Looking at the coming, massive, demographic shift in the Texas voting population, I suspect they white, right wing are trying to get all they can while they still have power.

  7. As a lifetime resident of Texas I can say that things are worse now than when I was in school 30+ years ago. Not worse as in “…kids these days!”, but more like “What a bunch of f-d up legislators and superintendents running the place!”

    If only I could afford to buy some votes I’d make some changes.

  8. “The tickets carry steep fines, and if you graduate with unpaid fines, you go to prison.”

    Prison?!  That’s just horrific.  If they have unpaid fines, they should be forced into indentured servitude.  (C’mon, Texas, why take baby steps back to the 1800’s when you can take a giant leap?)

  9. I’ve been a school teacher. If it does anything to keep the terrible/stupid/violent “students” quiet so the decent/trying-their-best/have-some-potential students can learn it’s a good thing.

    1. By that argument, shooting the disruptive ones in the head in front of their classmates would be the way to go. That’d shut the little brats up quick, that’s for sure.

    2. I think you’re missing something. This isn’t about keeping disruptive kids in line. Take, for instance, this part of the article:

      “We had one young man with an IQ well below 70 who was pepper-sprayed in the hallway because he didn’t understand what the police were saying,” said Simpkins. “After they pepper-sprayed him he started swinging his arms around in pain and he hit one of the police officers – it’s on video, his eyes were shut – and they charged him with assault of a public servant. He was 16. He was charged with two counts of assault of a public servant and he is still awaiting trial. He could end up in prison.”

      What part of  keeping “the terrible/stupid/violent “students” quiet” is this?

    3. The only thing I find hopeful about your comment is that you used the past tense to describe your employment as a school teacher.

  10. Has anyone done the analysis on how the criminal citations are doled out by ethnic/racial group?

    I’m guessing I already know what the findings would be, but I’m curious if the work has already been done.

  11. Maybe I’m missing something, but when did flipping off another person–regardless of whether or not the flippee is a teacher and the flipper is a student–become a criminal offense? Although I realize this may be a local ordinance designed to suppress this obvious threat, and to give Barney Fife the chance to nip such disrespectful behavior in the bud. And I realize that, even though it’d be an easy win, most parents in these schools don’t necessarily have the time, money, or inclination to take this to a lawyer as a First Amendment case, even if it means their child will have a criminal record for nothing more offensive than showing Ms. Crump his middle finger.

    Reading the article, though, I read that, not surprisingly, parents asked for police to protect schools following the Columbine shootings, but “most schools do not face any serious threat of violence and police officers patrolling the corridors and canteens are largely confronted with little more than boisterous or disrespectful childhood behaviour.”

    In other words police officers are treating minor acts of bad behavior by schoolchildren as criminal offenses solely as a way of justifying their presence.

    1. Texas Penal Code Sec 42.01 (2) says it is a Class C misdemeanor under state law to do so.  I WISH I was making this up.  It’s defined as “disorderly conduct.”

  12. I’m not surprised the kids are behaving so badly. Treat schoolchildren the same way you treat prisoners in the state penitentiary and they’re going to start acting like the prisoners in the state penitentiary.

    1. I’ve had some intimate experience of what “no child left behind” and “zero tolerance” really mean in practice.  Too long a story to post here, but basically if you have money your kid walks; the poor kids go to jail unless they are old enough to “volunteer” for military service.

      1. The “success” of NCLB in Texas turned out to be based on schools reporting drop-outs (of whom there were vast numbers) as transfers to other schools.

  13. Ironically, these are the same sort of people that scream “THOUGHT CRIME!” whenever you bring up Hate Crimes.  Or, they make legislation that makes it legal to harass and bully LGBQT students.

  14. Texas is very serious about their schools. Of the four states where I attended public schools, Texas provided me with the best learning environment, the best learning skills, and the most useful, lasting info I was taught. 

    1. Um … isn’t Texas the state that provides most of the textbooks for the nation, and seem to think that all science textbooks must include intelligent design/creationism, while trying to claim that evolution is “just a theory and therefore not fact”?

      Also, I’m not sure how punishing what is generally the kids with the least advantages, and possibly sending them to PRISON for cussing if they can’t afford the fines (way to stick it to the poor kids!), is somehow the “best learning environment.” I’d be afraid that if I stubbed my toe and cursed, I’d get handed a ticket or even arrested. Or, if some asshole teacher just didn’t like me, he or she would claim I cursed, when i didn’t. I mean, these kids are being ARRESTED just for being kids (kids are piss-ants and this is not a bad thing). Not exactly an awesome environment for learning, imo.

    2. by that statement, you were taught in a much more affluent area in Texas.. or attended Texas schools more than 10 years ago..

  15. Chicago charter schools do this *fining* of students too.  Really makes your numbers look good when you fine and harshly discipline every slightly bad apple out of your school, and consequently back to regular public schools.

    1. A common solution to the bullying epidemic is to kick out the victims.

      Really, America is so fubar, this country thinks bullying kids who might be lesbian, gay and/or trans is good morals, and thinks bailing out the rich while punishing the poor is responsibility.

      P.S. The comment system’s buggy again.

  16. Hundreds of schools?  I’m not buying it.  If the actions they described took place, I would bet they are isolated.  I’ve never experienced anything like what they describe and I’ve lived in Texas since 1980.
    My kids have attended several schools and have never experienced anything like what they describe.
    It doesn’t surprise me that there are police at certain schools.  But I’ve never heard of students being ticketed for what they describe.  I’m skeptical.

    1. That’s right.  And I’ve never been shot at by the Taliban so I’m skeptical about this war I Afghanistan.

  17. I don’t think a single critical comment here was from someone that teaches in a large urban or suburban public school. A common theme is that the schools are turning kids into future criminals. But people are forgetting that the kids are already part of a larger culture and are coming in with some attitudes fully formed. Their parents might already be in and out of prisons. Or their parents might not give a shit about their education. Their parents might have supported every misbehavior against authority during that child’s life. Some “students” have already learned to get their way through violence and intimidation through physical force or by ganging up and bullying. 

    Bullies don’t just bully students. They bully teachers, too. They learn to get control of an entire class or entire school. I don’t see anything wrong with having police in a situation where people are being physically threatened on a daily basis. This might be because I was bullied in school and so I am sensitive to this issue. If you read the article you will see that even the police are not always dealing with the ones everyone knows are extremely dangerous. Even police can be bullied. They have families and they would be rightly concerned if a student they arrested was a gang member or related to a gang leader.

    Put yourself in the situation of a teacher that is trying to impart a love for thinking in young people and being constantly mocked and ridiculed by thugs that know how to scare the other students into laughing along. What education is really going to be happening anyway in this case? None. The student that said the word was in the teacher’s “culo” was not arrested for cussing. The arrest was for basically saying “I don’t give a fuck what you want me to do, I’m going to get the whole class to laugh at you and your attempts to educate them”. Realistically, this event was possibly one in an ongoing series for this student. Bullying usually does NOT involve actual violence. It is usually accomplished by mobilizing a larger group against the victim.

    Yes, arrest in this case is ridiculous. A better solution is just to deny “students” like this the right to attend an institution where some people actually want to learn. But schools cannot do this. Nor can they administer physical punishment. They are stuck with a good number of thugs that know they have all the power. Thugs that know how to communicate legal threats or suggestions of violence through body language, facial expressions, etc. 

    Just based on the physical bullying and violence alone, schools should be allowed to have police. Kids can get arrested for shoplifting. No one questions that. Why should criminal behavior such as violence be protected just because it happens in a school? People seem to be forgetting that the good kids are forced to go to school, too. They have the right to not be verbally, psychologically, or physically abused and harassed on a daily basis. 

    Schools with police should be required to have a student advocate review the case before an arrest or fine is finalized especially for nonviolent disruptions. This would do a lot to moderate the more absurd or unfair outcomes such as what happened to the perfume sprayer. By the way, one thing that was not mentioned in that article is that perfume spraying in schools has been a popular way over the last few years to disrupt a class. Again, not a reason for arrest but it makes the teacher’s over-reaction a little more understandable. Also, kids do lie. I wouldn’t automatically side with that girl or believe her story. 

    Students should not be arrested or fined for things that adults don’t arrested or fined for. But here’s the difference: Adults have other forms of accountability that are non-existent in schools. As an adult, if you go to a bar and start spraying perfume on strangers there are going to be consequences. You’ll get your face smashed or get 86’d by the establishment. If you bother people in the workplace you’ll get fired. But not if you are minor in a public school. You can keep playing the same game day after day. 

    No, I’m not a fascist. I love kids, and I teach in a progressive private school and I am well loved by my students. But I would not teach in a frightening or chaotic situation and so I am hesitant to criticize schools that are trying to regain control and civility. 

    The problem is not police in schools, it’s that police abuse in general is increasing. And I think that we are rightly angered at that and so we look at this situation in the schools through that lens. But the violence and disruptions in schools is a real problem that existed before the police came in.

  18. i’ve lived in Texas for 32 years.. this is a regular thing now..in fact, my local HSs have riot police and paddy wagons..

    in Houston ISD, there are schools that actually have HPD sub-stations with holding cells in them.. they have taken “zero-tolerence” to an extreme..

    also, most parents do not realize that teachers are personally liable for the safety/well being of the students in their classes.. if a child is hurt, the teacher can be personally sued/arrested for negligence.. yet, the school systems are not held liable..

    it’s true that it seems as if students are more insolent than years past, and the student/teacher ratios are very high.. and through this, it is harder for teachers to keep control of their classrooms.. i sympathize somewhat with teachers on this point..

    my ex-wife *was* a HS teacher in Houston ISD and in Humble ISD, and she was fired for mishandling fights in her classroom.. you can’t separate the students by placing one of them in the hallway.. apparently, it presents a threat to the other classrooms/students..

    if a school age child swears in public, off of school property, they will be ticketed, or arrested and the school will be involved.. in fact, anyone can be ticketed for swearing.. you’ll be cited for disorderly conduct.. *how this does not violate the 1st amendment, i don’t know..  no one has tried to fight it to that point yet..

    in Texas, many of the state laws and codes have a total disregard for the written law.. you have to prove the ruling was illegal.. so, the police and judges can pretty much do anything, until you prove them wrong.. and even then, they are immune to most penalties.. they get away with doing what ever they want, the majority of the time.. you’d probably have a better chance in a Mexican court than a Texas court..

    corruption is business as usual.. and business is good in Texas..

    it is much more insane than one would realize..

  19. 1) Crazy.
    2) Arrest the Parents, or at least make them responsible for their spawn.

    Teachers and Administrators are likely… limited in what they can do anyway. Parents, would have more… flexibility as to what punishment to exact. Believe me when you start targeting parents, they WILL exact punishment at that point.

    Besides, involving police is A) a cop out (pardon pun!) of responsibility, and B) a huge misappropriation of public services and funds.

    my 2 cents.

    Disclaimer: I have no kids, nor do I live in Texas! :)

  20. As an English teacher with several years under her belt, as well as having been in the same district most of my life, I certainly haven’t seen anything like this in my entire town. We are not affluent–El Paso is pretty damn poor. We aren’t white–most of my kids are hispanic. We have one cop for the whole campus, which encompasses two schools, and we share him with another school. I doubt sincerely that the article gives the full picture. A kid ticketed for cursing once is an abuse of power.

    A kid ticketed for cursing over and over is appropriate. Ticketing and arrests should be a tool available in discipline if needed. I don’t think it’s excessive for “mild cases of assault”–one kid pouring milk on another is humiliating, bullying behavior, and it can easily be one more bit of cruelty that makes school just that much more painful for the victim. The problem is not the ticketing, it’s the lack of judgment sometimes used. But when you cede that much authority to a large governing body, of course it’s going to abuse the power.

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