Archive for the ‘Youth rights’ Category:
By Sarah Guidry
Interim Executive Director
Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy
Thurgood Marshall School of Law at Texas Southern University
I recently found out that back in the late 1800s, my paternal great grandfather purchased land and built a school for the education of his children and grandchildren. I recall hearing my father talk about how his grandfather had volumes of Shakespeare on his book shelves that contributed to my father’s yearning to learn. As a child, not a single day passed without my parents and grandparents “preaching” the importance of education. As parents and grandparents of African American children, they knew, as I do, that education is a way to a better life. Education improves key aspects of life including financial, social, familial, and spiritual. Education is power!
My forbearers would never have envisioned today’s educational system that routinely criminalizes our children and closes the doors of opportunity. Students are pushed towards lifelong involvement in the criminal justice system when they are ticketed for relatively minor disciplinary issues. This phenomenon is now widely referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline.
The Earl Carl Institute for Legal & Social Policy, Inc. (ECI), is a research, writing, and advocacy think tank, affiliated with the Thurgood Marshall School of Law on the campus of Texas Southern University, a historically black university. The institute is one of the few organizations providing legal representation to students in school ticketing cases.
We frequently represent children in cases we consider particularly egregious; which brings to mind the story of a student we’ll call Mick. Mick retained the ECI Juvenile Justice Project to represent him in a school ticket case. Mick has ADHD and Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism, which most often manifests through difficulty with social interaction, and repetitive and restricted patterns of behavior. Mick has an issue with elopement. That’s when a student leaves a permissible area of containment and enters onto another part of the school grounds unsupervised or without permission.
Mick was issued a ticket for trespassing on school grounds after he eloped from his Behavior Support classroom. Mick’s Individual Education Program specifically requires that his emergency contact (in this case, his mother) be notified immediately if Mick elopes, before involving the police. Multiple school personnel followed Mick around the campus for two hours; never once notifying his mother. One of the principals finally suspended Mick to have an excuse to call police. School policy holds that the only lawful place a suspended student may physically “wait” is in the front office. If the student leaves that area or refuses to go to the office, the school may call the police to arrest the student for “trespass.” Only after six squad cars arrived on scene, and Mick was handcuffed and placed in the back seat of a squad car, was Mick’s mother notified of the situation. This was Mick’s third ticket for behavior related to his disability.
ECI was ultimately able to get Mick’s case dismissed. Mick potentially could have had three criminal misdemeanor convictions against him, all by the age of 12, possibly affecting his dream of going to college to earn a degree in computer science and becoming a gaming designer.
Other cases have included a student:
* With anxiety disorder ticketed for disruption of class for singing the ABC song which calms him;
* Overheard saying a curse word in the hallway that was ticketed for disruption of class/profanity;
* With Asperger’s Syndrome who was ticketed for assault when he brushed past a substitute teacher to leave the classroom and walk a certain hallway. He was following his school behavior plan for when he starts to have a meltdown;
* Who was bullied, including being held down and beaten. After the third bullying incident when he’s had enough and tries to defend himself, he is ticketed for disruption of school by affraying (fighting)
* Who, at age 17 and in the ninth grade, was told to withdraw from school and get a GED despite his low grade functioning (4th grade level) and in violation of the school’s duty under federal law to supply services that will allow him to be successful in school. He then was slapped with truancy fines and the court issued warrants for unpaid fines even though the student only receives social security disability benefits and could not pay.
ECI believes that the school ticketing issue should be of particular concern to the African American community. According to a report issued by Texas Appleseed, 97 percent of school tickets are discretionary (meaning the school does not have to issue the ticket). Moreover, young African Americans receive a disproportionate number of these tickets. In some school districts, African Americans are ticketed at a rate double their percentage of the school population.
We cannot afford to stand back and watch the efforts of our great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents eroded by a school system that would rather send children to jail than to college. If you need help fighting this up-hill battle, please contact the Earl Carl Institute at 713.313.1139 or visit our website at www.earlcarlinstitute.org for more information.
Find out what the law says about praying in school, punishment at school for saying something on Facebook, and handling police encounters.
Take the quiz to test your knowledge. Then, as you go through the answers, find out what the ACLU of Texas is doing to educate youth about their rights.
1. A school district that allows for corporal punishment cannot discipline a student in that manner without a parent’s written consent.
b. False – If a school district agrees to allow corporal punishment, a school within that district is permitted to physically discipline a student unless that student’s parent or guardian expressly opts out in writing before the beginning of each school year.
2. School administrative staff and police officers must receive training about student mental health and suicide prevention.
a.True – Thanks to a new law in Texas, all school districts must provide for training of all teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, social workers, law enforcement officers, and all other staff on how to recognize signs of mental health issues and intervene early and appropriately.
3. When a student is the victim of bullying, a school:
a. Must notify the parents of the bullying victim
b. Must notify the parents of the bully
c. May handle the matter internally
d. Both a. & b. – House Bill 1942, which will go into effect as law this fall, requires school officials to provide for the timely notification of both students’ parents.
4. Can the school punish a student for something he or she says on Facebook?
c. Maybe – Students have a First Amendment right of free speech, but it has certain limits. Schools may be able to censor or punish students for cyberspeech if it is part of a school project, uses school computers, is accessed from a school computer lab, or if it is materially disruptive, vulgar, threatening, or advocates illegal drug use. However, the Supreme Court has said that political speech is “at the core of what the First Amendment is designed to protect,” and students generally have the right to state their political opinions in a non-disruptive manner.
5. When addressing an incident of bullying that results in school disruption, a school is required to consider whether a victim was acting in self-defense when determining the appropriate punishment for those involved.
A. True – House Bill 1942 also prohibits a student from being punished if he or she was reacting in self-defense to an act of bullying.
6. Do students have the right to pray in school?
a. No, because the ACLU will file a lawsuit to stop them.
b. Yes, in most circumstances. – Students have the right to pray at school, whatever their religion or religious denomination, as long as they do not disrupt the instructional or other activities of the school. A valedictorian or salutatorian may even include a prayer or religious message in their graduation speech. The school cannot compel or sponsor student prayer, however, or set aside time for prayer during the course of any school event or activity. Prayer is an individual right, and it may not be restricted or coerced by the school or any school official.
7. Can school officials search a student’s locker without the student or parent’s consent?
a. Yes, any time they want and for any reason.
b. No, they are never permitted to search a student’s locker without that student’s consent.
c. Yes, but the search must be reasonable and related to a suspected violation of the school code or the penal law. – Under Texas law, students do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in their lockers. The school technically owns each locker and does not need a student’s consent before conducting a search. At the same time, the search must be reasonable and related to the suspected disciplinary violation that led to the search. For example, in Shoemaker v. State, the Beaumont Court of Appeals found that when a student was suspected of stealing credit cards, a nonconsensual, warrantless search of her locker for evidence of the theft was reasonable. In contrast, in Coronado v. State, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals held that when a student was suspected of skipping school, a search of his locker for contraband was unreasonable under the circumstances.
8. Can minors obtain contraception without the consent of a parent or guardian?
a. Yes. A student has the right to obtain any over-the-counter or prescription contraception available to adults.
b. Yes, but with some limitations. – As a general rule, minors over the age of 16 do not need consent to buy any over-the-counter form of birth control. Prescription contraception, however, normally requires the consent of a parent or guardian.
c. No. Students do not have any right to contraception without parental consent.
9. If a school administrator wants to question a student about a crime or a violation of school rules, she must first recite the student’s Miranda rights (i.e., that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can and will be used against him in a court of law, etc.).
b. False – Unless the police are involved in a student’s questioning or detention, a student is not “in custody” so as to trigger his or her Miranda rights. As long as the administrator is acting within the scope of his official duties in questioning the student, he is not legally obligated to “Mirandize” the student.
10. Do minors have fewer rights than adults when they are stopped by the police?
b. No - While school administrators have greater leeway than law enforcement to question and search students on campus, police are held to the same legal standards when stopping minors and adults. This is true whether the stop occurs on- or off-campus.
Most of us have all been on the receiving end of bullying at least once, but that doesn’t mean we should let today’s youth continue to be bullied, and the Texas Legislature agrees!
State lawmakers passed a law creating new guidelines concerning bullying which school districts must implement by the time school starts this fall.
The new law requires school boards to adopt policies that:
- prohibit bullying
- stop retaliation against any person including a victim, witness, or another person, who in good faith, provides information concerning a bullying incident.
The new law requires schools to:
- notify a parent or guardian of a student who is bullying or bullied within a reasonable amount of time after the incident
- provide steps students should take to obtain assistance and intervention in response to bullying
- make available counseling options for a student who is victim of or a witness to bullying or who engages in bullying
- establish procedures for reporting bullying, investigating reports of bullying, and determining whether bullying occurred
- prohibit punishment of a student who, after an investigation is found to have been a victim of bullying, use reasonable self-defense in response to the bullying
- develop a process for bullying cases involving special education students in accordance with the Disabilities Education Act.
Parents and guardians no longer have to worry about being in the dark if bullying happens or students being punished for self-defense against bullies!
Help us protect youth rights by joining the ACLU of Texas CAN (Community Action Network). We need people like you to raise awareness in your town!
By Kate Vickery
In June, for the first time in US history, a congressional subcommittee hearing was held on the use of solitary confinement. Senator Dick Durbin opened the congressional hearing by noting that over 80,000 U.S. inmates are currently held in solitary confinement, the highest number in history. This wasn’t always the case.
“We now know that solitary confinement is not just used on the worst of the worst. Instead we’re seeing an alarming increase in isolation for those who don’t really need to be there and for many vulnerable populations like immigrants, children, LGBT inmates…supposedly there for their own protection.”
The testimony of people who had experienced solitary was incredibly moving, particularly that of Texas death row exoneree, Anthony Graves, who was housed in isolation for 10 of his 18 years behind bars. Mr. Graves was an innocent man.
Mr. Graves, was one of many. Texas prisons contain about 10 percent of the nation’s isolated prisoners, who spend an average of three years in solitary.
Last month, a group from Texas Impact visited the Hughes Unit, one of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s maximum-security prisons. An excellent editorial in the Austin American Statesman this week describes the experience:
“We spent the day touring the prison facility with Warden Edward Smith and heard about all of the programs available for inmates. But the image of that small room, the huge doors and the men who languish there stayed with me.”
As Senator Durbin noted, incarcerated juveniles are increasingly held in isolation as well. While hard numbers are nearly impossible to get, we know that youth are held in solitary confinement in both state and local facilities.
Using isolation as a punishment is technically prohibited for youth in Texas Juvenile Justice Department (TJJD) facilities. However, 24-hour isolation is a viable option in order to “control behavior that disrupts programming.” This loophole in policy allows youth to easily be placed in isolation, when it should be used only as the absolute last resort.
Isolation has particularly devastating effects on juveniles because of their incomplete psychological and emotional development. This fact was the primary argument for the Supreme Court’s recent decision to eliminate life without parole (LWOP) as a sentencing option for juveniles. The Supreme Court continues to affirm that children who commit crimes are fundamentally different from adults. They should be given every rehabilitative opportunity while incarcerated in order to increase their chances of leading a productive life upon release. Every hour spent in isolation decreases that chance.
Current Texas policies are far too weak to prevent the overuse of isolation. Reforms need to be made to ensure that solitary confinement is used only in the most extreme circumstances.
The ACLU of Texas is committed to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all persons in Texas, including the incarcerated. Unfortunately, the overuse of solitary confinement in Texas prisons and jails violates those civil rights, is exorbitantly expensive, jeopardizes public safety, and has devastating effects on an individual’s mental health.
To help reduce the use of this practice in Texas prisons, sign up for the ACLU of Texas Community Action Network.
By Matthew Simpson
Today the Supreme Court issued an important decision on how youth can be sentenced. Specifically, the court held that a life sentence without the possibility of parole is cruel and unusual punishment, as barred by the 8th Amendment.
In previous cases, the Supreme Court had barred capital punishment for juveniles and prohibited life without parole for non-homicide crimes. Specifically, Roper v. Simmons held that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for children, and Graham v. Florida concluded that the Amendment prohibits a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a juvenile convicted of a non-homicide offense.
Today’s opinion, written by Justice Kagan, indicates two lines of legal reasoning that point to the unconstitutionality of life without parole for youth.
- First, youth are viewed to be less culpable generally because of a “lack of maturity” and an “underdeveloped sense of responsibility.”
- Second, juvenile life without the chance of parole has been compared to the death penalty in previous opinions. Because the Supreme Court previously determined the death penalty could not be applied to youth without violating the Constitution, any similar penalty would likewise be unconstitutional.
In Texas, juvenile life without the chance of parole was ended by a law passed in 2009. However, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) affirmed the practice, despite existing state law to the contrary, for youth sentenced to life without parole from 2005-2009. We hope that today’s decision will influence CCA’s future decisions on juvenile life without parole.
Overall, the Supreme Court has affirmed that youthful offenders are fundamentally different from adult offenders and criminal penalties for youthful offenders must take into account these differences. This line of reasoning could potentially mean further reforms in the future. For example, the court could consider the sentencing of the mentally ill with similar emphasis on the culpability of individuals with mental health issues. Or, the Supreme Court could consider the use of solitary confinement on juveniles who have been shown to be more negatively impacted than adults by isolation.
The opinion today is a step toward fair sentencing. Approaching justice with an individualized and outcome oriented approach allows policymakers to continue to develop criminal justice policy that makes us safer and encourages positive long term outcomes. In Texas, ending juvenile life without parole was smart on crime and today the Supreme Court indicated we also have a constitutional duty to cease this sentencing practice.
By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director
Jarrell High School senior, Allison Brawley, got to take the date of her choice to the prom as reported by Texas News Service. Although Allison first ran into roadblocks, she—with the help of the ACLU of Texas—was able to negotiate a resolution that allowed her to share a special night of celebration with friends and classmates.
The ACLU applauds the decision by Jarrell High School administrators to adopt a fair policy that treated all students the same, regardless of sexual orientation or gender.
Often doing the right thing isn’t easy or without controversy. By standing up for Allison’s rights in a measured and reasonable way, Allison and her mother set an example for other students and their parents to follow.
The ACLU of Texas is gratified that we were able to facilitate a positive outcome that showed respect for all parties involved.
By Amy Fettig, National Prison Project & Matt Simpson, Policy Strategist
Imagine locking a teenager in a bathroom for an entire day, a week, a month, six months, a year, or longer. What would happen to that child? She would miss school. She wouldn’t be able to exercise or burn off energy in a healthy way. She wouldn’t be able to interact with other kids or adults. She would probably have a mental breakdown. She might even hurt herself. If a parent treated a child this way, most of us would agree that such actions would constitute child abuse. In Texas county jails — and the majority of jails across the country — such treatment is simply a matter of routine.
An important new report, Conditions for Certified Juveniles in Texas County Jails, by researchers at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, exposes the terrible harms visited on children held in these facilities. The LBJ report finds that the majority of jails in its survey lock youth in isolation — often with less than an hour a day out of their cells. For these youth, the average length of stay in solitary is six months to a year or longer. While in solitary, education is almost nonexistent and mental health care infrequent. Children in Texas jails spend incredibly long periods of time isolated and alone with no prospect of rehabilitation.
While in solitary confinement, children’s mental and physical health is severely compromised. The LBJ report notes the broad consensus among mental health experts that such long-term solitary confinement is psychologically harmful for adults. For children in solitary confinement, the impact is even more traumatic. Children experience time differently than adults, have a special need for social stimulation, and are damaged by forced isolation more quickly and severely than adults. It is also true that young people’s brains are still developing, which places youth at a higher risk of psychological harm when healthy development is impeded. But the psychological harm is not limited to developmental issues — it often means life or death. As the report notes, the risk of suicide and self-harm, including cutting and other acts of self-mutilation, increases exponentially for children in adult jails who are 36 times more likely to commit suicide than their counterparts in juvenile facilities.
Reviewing the data, the LBJ report notes “the impact of prolonged isolation may have mental health consequences that will make it difficult for these youth to reintegrate, and may increase the likelihood that they will recidivate.” Solitary confinement hurts children and ultimately undermines public safety.
Given these obvious harms, why are jails in Texas and so many other states putting kids in solitary? The report notes that the practice of isolating youth arises from the fact that youth in adult facilities face the near-constant threat of physical and sexual assault by older prisoners. As a result, corrections officials place youth in isolation cells because they want to keep them safe and they have little choice because most facilities have few alternatives to protect youth other than solitary confinement. But we know solitary itself harms youth.
The lesson here is that kids simply don’t belong and can’t be kept safe in adult facilities. Last year the Texas legislature took an important first step to deal with this problem by passing S.B. 1209, which gives jurisdictions the discretion to house kids accused of adult offenses in juvenile facilities while awaiting trial. Now that we have the concrete data from researchers at LBJ, it’s clear that S.B. 1209 does not provide enough protection for youth confined in Texas jails. It’s time for Texas to fill this gap and work to ensure that teenage offenders are kept in the juvenile justice system where they have a better chance of staying safe, returning home and becoming productive citizens. The rest of the country should then follow Texas’s lead.
By Dotty Griffith
Public Education Director
Graduation season is upon us. For many students and their families, this is a happy time. But it may also be a time when school administrators teach their students a fundamentally un-American lesson – that it’s okay for the state to favor one religion over others.
Unfortunately, these administrators forget that, while the Founders left many issues up to majority rule, they viewed some rights as so fundamental that they should never be put to a vote. They created the Bill of Rights to protect those fundamental rights, including religious freedom. The First Amendment prohibits the state from endorsing or advancing religion and from interfering with any individual’s free exercise of religion.
At the ACLU of Texas, two of the most common complaints we receive during graduation season are that the graduation ceremony will feature prayer or that it is being held in a religious venue. While the specific facts of each case are vital to determining whether the school has violated the First Amendment, here is some general information about what is and is not permissible (this is not legal advice).
Prayer at graduation:
- Your school cannot sponsor or endorse prayer at graduation. Even a non-sectarian prayer is unconstitutional, because government entities like public schools cannot decide what sort of prayer people should hear. Additionally, courts have held that school-sponsored prayer is coercive, as many students feel pressured to participate even if they do not want to. The First Amendment prohibits the government from compelling a religious exercise.
- Individual students, however, may choose to pray, or talk about their religious faith, in a graduation or similar speech. This is because the First Amendment guarantees their right to freely exercise religion. Such prayer is constitutional only if the school is absolutely clear that it does not sponsor or endorse the religious speech. Therefore, at a minimum, school administrators cannot encourage students to pray; they cannot dictate, suggest, or edit what a student is going to say; and they must include a disclaimer on the event program indicating that they do not sponsor student religious speech.
- And of course, any student may pray privately, to him or herself, at anytime, at graduation or anywhere else, as long as she or he is not disrupting other students.
Graduation in Church:
- Schools are not prohibited from using a religious venue for a school event like graduation. However, the decision to use a religious venue must not advance or endorse religion. At a minimum, this means that schools should always try to hold graduation in a non-religious venue. A church should not be used unless it is the only viable location.
- If a religious setting must be used, it should be as welcoming to all beliefs and non-belief as possible. For example, if the church being used has many conspicuous, sectarian icons and symbols—such as crosses, crucifixes, menorahs, and the like—the decision to use that setting may advance the particular religion.
Think your rights have been violated? Tell us your story. Together, we can help ensure that all Texas students graduate in a Constitution-friendly way!
By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Title IX. The ACLU works to advance educational equality in four key areas: sex-segregation and sex stereotypes in education, pregnant and parenting teens’ rights, gender-based violence, and athletics. As the actual anniversary date, June 23rd, approaches we wanted to take this opportunity to share a little about Texas’ own Title IX hero, Dr. Donna Lopiano.
Dr. Lopiano was named one of “The 10 Most Powerful Women in Sports” by Fox Sports. The Sporting News has repeatedly listed her as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in Sports.”
As the former Chief Executive Officer of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a National Hall of Fame athlete, Dr. Donna Lopiano is recognized as one of the foremost national experts on gender equity in sports. Dr. Lopiano, who also served 18 years as the University of Texas at Austin Director of Women’s Athletics, testified about Title IX and gender equity before three Congressional committees, served as a consultant to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights Department of Health, Education and Welfare, on the Title IX Task Force and as an expert witness in 28 court cases. She has also served as a consultant to school districts, institutions of higher education and state education agencies on Title IX compliance and to non-profit organizations on governance and strategic planning.
While at Texas, she constructed what many believed to be the premiere women’s athletics program in the country; twice earning the top program in the nation award. She understood the full range of the impact of Title IX is not just about sports. It’s about educational opportunity: 90 percent of women athletes who exhausted their athletic eligibility at the University of Texas received a baccalaureate degree during her tenure.
Learn more about Title IX:
Check out the ACLU Title IX web resources which include a timeline, new web pages and an online feature, The Nine, which highlights nine of the heroes that shaped this historic legislation over time.
By Gislaine Williams
Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Students in Texas and across the country are remaining silent today to raise awareness about the traumatizing effects of anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. They’re taking part in the annual Day of Silence, a national event hosted by the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN) that empowers students to stand up for themselves and their peers.
The Day of Silence started 16 years ago and unfortunately, its message is still relevant today. Schools are failing to protect students from bullying. Some schools administrators have condoned bullying against LGBT youth and even blame the victims of bullying. We’re concerned by the number of students being pushed out of school as a result of bullying and deeply saddened every time we hear of a bullied child being driven to suicide.
We must all work together to defend the right of every student to be safe in school. We commend the students standing together in silence today and support their efforts to create a better school environment for LGBT students.
Attend Day of Silence events in Houston and Dallas:
The ACLU of Texas will be sharing resources at GLSEN-Houston’s Breaking the Silence celebration in Houston at the University of Houston at 6pm. RSVP and see details at: http://www.facebook.com/events/219237144849640/
GLSEN-Dallas and Youth First will host a Breaking the Silence event in Dallas starting at 4pm. View the details: http://www.youthfirsttexas.org/youth-first-texas-and-glsen-team-up-to-break-the-silence/