Teachers upset over lack of notice about criminals

May 28, 2010 4:45:33 PM PDT
Hundreds of students who have been convicted of violent crimes are still in classrooms, sitting next to other children. The problem is teachers don't always know they've got a criminal in the room. HISD doesn't have to tell parents about it, but the district is required to tell teachers.

We first told you about the issue earlier this month. Since then, we've learned a breakdown in communication meant teachers were unaware that dangerous felons were in their classes.

The question is where in the communication process did that breakdown occur? While no one can say for sure, HISD superintendent Dr. Terry Grier promised sweeping changes before the start of the next school year.

State law guarantees all students the right to an education no matter how violent they might be, so long as school administrators and their teachers know who they are.

Parent Robert Ozan said, "The more knowledge you have, the better you are in a situation to handle it and make the right decisions."

Earlier this month, Eyewitness News obtained information about students -- juveniles -- convicted of violent crimes while attending Harris and Fort Bend county schools. Our investigation showed that many had returned to local classrooms.

After our story aired, the president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Gayle Fallon, made a startling revelation -- HISD wasn't playing by the rules.

"It's not just a matter of protecting the teacher," she said. "It's a matter of them protecting the other students."

In a letter she fired off to HISD trustees, Fallon did not mince words. She wrote, "Since the story on Channel 13... we have received numerous calls from teachers stating that no teacher on their campuses has received any notification."

HISD spokesperson Norm Uhl admitted, "It is a problem. Even if it's just one teacher not getting the information, that's a problem."

HISD, which by law is supposed to receive the information from Harris County Juvenile Probation, says it's investigating where the breakdown occurred so it can be fixed.

Uhl said, "Before the beginning of the next school year, we're going to have a communication structure in place to try and ensure that we're getting complete information from the courts and that the information is getting to the schools and to the instructors that are affected."

A juvenile probation spokesperson says the agency is following the law and added, "While we are unaware there may be gaps, we are open to working with any organization to help address them."

Parents we spoke with say it's a tough call.

Parent Charlotte Mueller said, "Safety is a big issue in schools but there's also, how we make it a place where everybody gets a chance to learn? Do we want to write off any 15 year old?"

No matter how violent the offense may be, schools are under no obligation to tell parents or anyone else who these kids are. Their identities are protected by federal privacy laws.

If you want to find out if any student at your kid's school has been convicted of a crime, we've made it easy for you to find out. Here is the entire list for all of Harris and Fort Bend counties.


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