Children’s behavior – or, rather misbehavior – is no longer simply a matter of staying after school or clapping erasers or even just suspension. There is no more “child’s play.”
In Texas, as in much of the country, the shootings at Columbine and other recent events have contributed to the development of “zero tolerance” policies and the tighter linking of the public school system with law enforcement and the juvenile justice system. With cops already stationed on most school campuses, and with harsher laws requiring mandatory arrests, schools rely more and more on the Juvenile Court and the Juvenile Probation Department to discipline kids, rather than handling disciplinary issues creatively on the home campus.
We have represented children arrested for poking another student with a pencil, for tackling another student too hard during soccer, for pulling another student’s hair, and for passing gas in class. There was the boy charged with two felonies because he forgot to remove the souvenir pocket knife he had gotten on a trip over the summer with his grandparents. We’ve had a middle school girl charged with a sex case after being caught making out with her boyfriend against the school building. And a high school girl with felony drug charges because the assistant principal believed an empty candy case in her purse contained cocaine residue, when, in fact, the white powder was actually candy powder after all.
A lot of these cases might seem almost funny if the consequences of having a record - even a juvenile record - were not so potentially serious. Kids are charged with a multitude of offenses - serious and non-serious - as early as 10 years old. A huge percentage of juvenile cases derive from kids' behavior at school. Texas schools have essentially created a two-track process for dealing with such incidents: the disciplinary process at school on the one hand, and mandatory referral to juvenile court on the other. In some cases, even if a child gets in trouble for something that happened outside of school, he could still be suspended, removed, or expelled from school depending upon the severity of the alleged offense.
Disciplinary processes and juvenile courts move very quickly, making it important for parents and children to seek advice from attorneys - and, in many cases, help from any appropriate treatment providers - as quickly as possible.