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Did Austin ISD Arrest and Ticket Too Many Students?

Photo by KUT News

A year-old report on “Texas’ School-to-Prison” pipeline is spreading across the Web, due to a report in The Guardianlooking critically at police arrests and citations in Texas (and Austin) schools, and follows recent efforts within AISD to change the way it disciplines students. 

The Guardian describes the story of Sarah Bustamante, a 12-year old student at Austin’s Fulmore Middle School. She was issued a criminal misdemeanor citation by a campus police officer for what she describes as spraying herself with two bursts of perfume during class.

This phenomenon – issuing criminal citations for student behavior that, in the past, wouldn’t earn offenders much more than a trip to the principal’s office – is examined at length in a report from Texas Appleseed. The Austin-based social and economic justice group issued a report in December 2010 that is cited by the Guardian piece. The report, “Texas’ School-to-Prison Pipeline: Ticketing, Arrest & Use of Force in Schools,” contains some sobering statistics on policing in Texas schools.

Sifting through data from school years 2001/02 to 2006/07, the report states larger school districts like Austin issue the most misdemeanor citations to students (2,653 in Austin ISD’s case).

It also states school districts including Austin ISD “reported ticketing African American students at a rate double their representation in the student body,” and that Austin ISD ticketed 91 elementary school students in the time period. Looking at the latest available data, the Guardian writes “In Austin, about 3% of the school district's 80,000 pupils were given criminal citations in the 2007/8 school year.”

The Appleseed report authors warn that ticketing students can set them on a destructive path. “Lock up in TYC [Texas Youth Commission] is the ‘end of the pipeline’ for some, while others will be transferred or commit a new offense resulting in their imprisonment in an adult corrections facility," the report says.

But they add, "Texas can interrupt this destructive cycle and prevent the loss of more young people to the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ through early interventions focused less on punishment and more on creating positive school environments that address students’ academic and behavioral needs.”

However, Austin ISD Superintendent Meria Carstarphen has signaled a desire to shift the policy since she took over the district in 2009.  The school board approved Carstarphen's recommendationlast month to overhaul AISD's two disciplinary schools. Carstarphen had urged the board to do so after indicating that minorities were "over-represented" in Austin ISD's alternative education programs. 

AISD has also faced pressure to change its ticketing policy from school board member Annette Lovoi, who served as the first executive director of Texas Appleseed from 1996 to 2006.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.