More teens going to court for school violations

May 24, 2012 3:31:16 AM PDT
School may be ending for the year, but the problems for thousands of students aren't.

Problems that were once solved with school discipline or Saturday detention are now routinely handled in court.

We examined 10 of our largest school districts and discovered ticketing students is getting more popular, even though parents and police officers say enough is enough.

Five nights a week, Houston's Municipal Court 12 packs them in.

"How old are you?" we asked Dontrell Theirry.

"Twelve," he said.

Kids are there to face a judge for school infractions.

"Some kids threw a firecracker on the floor so they could scare girls and stuff," teen Antonio Morales.

Violations they've already been punished at school for.

"A ticket and suspended," student Margarita Salas.

It's a courtroom full of adult-style discipline for school students, and it's far from the only one around.

Heaven Kimbrell was sent to court, charged with assault for a hair-pulling match at Lynn Lucas Middle School. Adrian Cuero was busted for disorderly conduct for having his computer volume up too loud in class.

"What did you learn from the whole exercise?" we asked Cuero.

"Nothing," he replied jokingly.

Cuero's brother, Yiovani Williams, caught a ticket for mouthing off to a teacher who wouldn't let him use the bathroom.

"I said this is bull," Williams said.

"What is this coming to?" State Sen. John Whitmire said.

Whitmire tried to cut school ticketing down last year, and he'll try again next year in Austin.

"You have to distinguish who you are afraid of versus who you are mad at. If you are afraid of some of the students, you remove them from class," Whitmire said.

HISD, the area's largest district, writes not surprisingly the most tickets, numbers their chief admits are too high.

"We're not there to be a disciplinarian person. We're there to uphold the law. The discipline process comes under the school administration," HISD Police Department Chief Jimmie Dotson said.

But according to a watchdog's report last year and our own review of this year's data, HISD's ticket writing increased two years in a row -- up 10 percent this school year.

In some districts, nearly twice as many tickets were written this year compared to last. In Harris County alone, we found 8,000 school-based tickets, and many of them were for what, in another time, would've been considered school discipline.

Hundreds of tickets were issued for using vulgar language in school. More than 1,100 tickets were for minor fights.

"They were criminalized for juvenile behavior," parent Racquel Williams said.

We found 10 tickets for an offensive gesture. We even found four kids ticketed for a noxious odor.

"Too much perfume will get you a ticket in many classes," Whitmire said.

"Anytime you have to issue ticket for any type of conduct behavior, it's too many," Dotson said. "Hopefully, that student won't come back and create another issue like that."

"Is there any proof that's happening?" we asked him.

"I don't know, I cannot say that," he said.

"Why not?"

"Well because I don't measure those things, Ted."

"But shouldn't you?"

"No, I shouldn't. My job is to make sure that we do the best we can on the front end to keep it safe."

Chief Dotson says he wants to work with teachers to get the ticket numbers down. These tickets, by the way, are not child's play. They become part of a student's criminal record, and if fines aren't paid when they become an adult, kids can be arrested.


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