Thursday, November 12, 2009

Farming out discipline

Recently, in his blog "Simple Justice," New York criminal defense attorney Scott H. Greenfield wrote about zero tolerance and "three strike" policies in public schools (see "Zero Tolerance for Three Strikes").

This made me think about how school discipline in this part of Texas has largely been turned over to the justice of the peace and municipal courts. It used to be if you got into a fight at school that you were sent to the principal's office and you either received a paddling or in-school suspension. Not that I'm a big fan of corporal punishment in schools, but there was a mechanism in place to handle discipline problems.

Somewhere along the way school districts in the Houston area decided that they didn't want to handle disciplinary problems anymore (I think it was about the same time we allowed standardized tests to determine the school curriculum). They farmed them out to the local courts.

Now, instead of a trip to the office to see the principal (who's usually out and about schmoozing with community leaders for donations and sponsorships), our unruly juveniles are issued a citation by the school's resident police officer (more and more local districts now have their own police departments, too, but that's another story for another day) requiring them to appear in court with a parent.

Ironically enough, the court appearance typically is scheduled on a weekday morning -- while school is in session. So not only is the child missing class (?), now he's facing a criminal charge. And isn't that the last thing we need -- more citizens under the watchful eye of the criminal (in)justice system?

While most of these cases are dismissed as the result of deferred disposition (or adjudication), the costs are severe. The child has missed class, the parent has missed work and someone has to pay the fines, court costs and attorney fees.

Is this really a good thing?

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