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Criminal Citations for Students Who Chew Gum?

| May 24, 2011

Since 1995, Texas has been issuing criminal citations to students who misbehave at school and more than 275,000 such citations are now issued. While some are certainly appropriate, we have also seen Class C misdemeanors to ten-year-olds for chewing gum, sleeping in class, or cursing.

Texas Senate Bill 1116 by Representative Jerry Madden and Senator John Whitmire, which is on the House Calendar today, would address this absurdity by eliminating the practice of schools issuing Class C misdemeanors to students below the age of 12 for minor misbehavior that traditionally would have been dealt with in the school system. Evidence shows that there are more effective disciplinary practices than sending these kids to a municipal court, which can only fine their parents. Students this young are not appropriately held responsible for signing a citation saying that they will appear in court. Under this bill, officers could still arrest such youngsters for any offense for which any person can be arrested, ensuring that school safety will not be compromised.

Finally the proposed bill carries no fiscal note.  This is a problem that is solved with a little common sense, not tax dollars.  Texas should enhance discipline in schools instead of passing the paddle to municipal courts and putting 4th, 5th, and 6th graders on a path to the juvenile justice system for routine school misbehavior.

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MARC A. LEVIN is Right on Crime’s Policy Director, as well as the Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.  Based in Austin, Texas, Levin is an attorney and an accomplished author on legal and public policy issues.  Levin served as a law clerk to Judge Will Garwood on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and Staff Attorney at the Texas Supreme Court.  In 1999, he graduated with honors from the University of Texas with a B.A. in Plan II Honors and Government.  In 2002, Levin received his J.D. with honors from the University of Texas School of Law.  Levin’s articles on law and public policy have been featured in national and international media outlets that regularly turn to him for conservative analysis of states’ criminal justice challenges.

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