In the News: Abbott Asked to Study Texas School Policing

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2016
by Mike Ward

AUSTIN -- Nine child-advocacy groups on Tuesday called for Gov. Greg Abbott to form a task force to study school policing, citing a spate of recent episodes in which officers were accused of using excessive force.

The groups said the study could recommend any changes to state law that are necessary to stop the problem, in time for the Legislature to address the issue when it convenes in January 2017.

The letter also urges the governor to end participation in a U.S. Department of Defense program that provides military weapons for school police officers to use in K-12 public schools.

"We would like to work together to ensure all students are able to learn in safe school environments and school police have clearly defined roles and effective training," the group stated in a letter to Abbott.

Abbott's office said it will take the letter and the groups' request under advisement.

Among recent high-profile incidents in Texas schools cited for the concerns: an officer slammed a six-year-old Abilene ISD student into a desk; a 12-year-old San Antonio ISD student was pushed face first to the ground by a school officer; and a 2013 incident in which an officer used a Taser on a Bastrop ISD high school student who had broken up a fight, causing him to fall to the ground and suffer a traumatic brain injury.

"We all want to make sure students are in class learning and staying safe," said Lauren Rose, director of Youth Justice Policy at Texans Care for Children, a nonprofit, multi-issue children's policy organization.

She said a state task force "should develop clear policies that will better support students, police and teachers. We need to provide officers the support and guidance they need so students are safe and officers can avoid another cell phone video gone viral."

Deborah Fowler, executive director of Texas Appleseed, echoed the sentiment. Students and parents "shouldn't have to wait for another lawsuit or troubling video to surface before we take action," she said.

In their letter, the organizations emphasized these incidents "highlight the need for a robust dialogue around the appropriate role of law enforcement officers in our schools and the need for all school police officers to receive youth-specific training."

In 2015, the Texas Legislature began requiring school police in districts with more than 30,000 students to undergo training on working with youth and serving on a school campus. About half of Texas students attend classes in districts with fewer than 30,000 students.

The groups include Texas Appleseed, Texans Care for Children, American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, Children's Defense Fund-Texas, Grassroots Leadership, Mental Health America-Texas, Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, National Alliance on Mental Illness-Texas and the Texas Organizing Project.

This article originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.