Enforce existing law to stop bullying

By Frank Knaack
Policy and Advocacy Strategist

The Senate Education Committee heard testimony today on three bills seeking to address the serious issue of bullying in Texas schools. The testimony included the tragic stories of three kids who committed suicide after undergoing years of bullying at their schools. The victim’s parents testified that they followed procedure – they had gone to their kids’ schools and asked the schools to intervene … to stop the bullying. Their calls for help were ignored.

The testimony we heard today from these parents matches what the ACLU has been told by the victims of bullying for years … despite existing law prohibiting bullying in schools and existing law requiring the enforcement of that prohibition, the pleas for help at school are often ignored. The result is unacceptable.

The solution? We must hold school officials accountable when they fail to protect Texas’ children.

Of the bills currently under consideration by the Legislature, Senator Whitmire’s SB 205 comes closest to a real solution. SB 205 creates a clear statutory framework to ensure that district officials report, investigate, and respond appropriately to allegations of bullying or harassment. In addition, SB 205 requires that each school policy identify a school official responsible for ensuring the policy is implemented.

SB 205 will provide the process to help ensure that allegations of bullying and harassment are reported, investigated, and remedied in all Texas public schools. Please contact your legislators today and urge them to support SB 205. With your help, we can all make Texas schools a safe place!

Can I See Some ID, Please?

By Matt Simpson
ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist

Don’t Mess With Texas may have started as a slogan for an anti-littering campaign, but we adopted it as a badge of honor because it hit a nerve: no one hates being bossed around or intimidated more than a Texan.

This week, we are battling two very un-Texan bills in the legislature. House Bill 12 and Senate Bill 11 would let police officers stop you to ask about your immigration status. It’ll make it impossible for police chiefs and sheriffs to supervise their officers and will divert the energy cops should be putting into fighting crime into immigration witchhunts.

It will surely be a shock to our Texas way of life when, while we’re driving to work, walking to the park, or headed out of a football game, we’re stopped and questioned by police for no other reason than being there. “Did I do something wrong, officer?” If HB 12 and SB 11 became law, the answer will be, “It doesn’t matter.” Cops would be entitled to question us simply because we are out in public.

There is a third bill circulating – Senate Bill 9 – that is just as bad. Maybe worse because it would give cops the right to set up checkpoints to stop drivers and make them show driver’s licenses and insurance information. For no reason. Without probable cause.

Taken together, these bills mean cops could detain you – even if you’ve done nothing wrong, you have no unpaid parking tickets, you were going the speed limit – until you’ve proven your immigration status and shown your vehicle registration papers. Throughout history, we’ve looked down at governments that wantonly stop their citizens and demand, “Papers, please.” We associate this kind of government intrusion with communist-era Russia or totalitarian regimes around the world, not with life in the United States of America, and certainly not in Texas.

These bills open the door to harassment based on a person’s skin color, spoken language, or national origin. Big cities will have their hands full trying to ensure that officers respect the legal and civil rights of residents. You could be questioned because of the way you look or talk. SB11 even extends to school officials and school cops, who could stop and interrogate students on their way to class.

Texas isn’t Arizona. And when it comes to laws like this, we don’t want to be. Texans don’t want or need a bill like Arizona’s SB 1070 that already has cost the state so much in image as well as untold numbers of dollars and cents.

This would create a number of problems: inconvenience and delay while sitting in a checkpoint line; wasting law enforcement’s precious time and resources; and assaulting the Constitution by making racial profiling the law of our land.

Being free to go about your daily business is a hallmark of democracy. Sometimes, the sweetest right is the one to be left alone.

The REAL Voting Problem in Texas

By Matt Simpson
Policy Strategist

Even though there’s no evidence of voter fraud at the polls, the governor included a Photo Voter Identification law as an emergency priority requiring immediate passage by the legislature. As the ACLU of Texas has said from the beginning, Voter ID is a solution in search of a problem.

There is, however, a real voting problem in Texas: turnout. We are ranked among the worst states in terms of voter participation. This fact stands in startling contrast to the current push for more stringent voting procedures which could further discourage voting, particularly by elderly and low income voters. That’s because requiring photo identification to vote means that the elderly and low income individuals, such as students who may not otherwise need a state-issued ID, must find a way to get to the Department of Public Safety offices and request such a document and pay for it. In some counties, DPS offices are far apart and difficult to reach. For some travel costs pose a financial burden as well as a logistical problem.

On Thursday, March 17, the State House of Representatives is expected to vote on the Photo Voter Identification Bill, known as SB 14. This Voter ID bill has been rushed through the Senate and through committee in the House. Now the full House will consider this proposal, the most stringent in the country.

We encourage you to contact your state legislators and communicate your concern about this proposal and the wrong direction this bill is taking our state. Texas should focus on the real issues with voting, such as our low participation. We should be encouraging full participation by all eligible voters, not creating new bureaucratic requirements that further undermine our already low voter turnout. The money spent implementing Voter ID (currently listed as $2 million but likely to be more) could be used to train Texans to assist individuals with voting or provide transportation to the polls.

Let’s identify solutions to our real problem, voter participation, rather than creating solutions for imaginary problems.

No Way to a GSA? What?

No Way to a GSA? What?

Oh come on, not again! One would think, after many court cases around the country that have affirmed the right of students to form Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs), (see here and here, just to name a couple), that schools wouldn’t bother trying to shut them down anymore. Apparently the Flour Bluff Independent School District didn’t get the memo.

When student Nikki Peet approached her principal to request permission to start a GSA at Flour Bluff High School, he gave her the run around and eventually forbid her from forming her club. When faced with information that courts have established that GSAs can not be prohibited in schools that allow extracurricular clubs, the Flour Bluff ISD superintendent decided that she’d prohibit other clubs instead of allowing the GSA to form.

When the ACLU of Texas heard about this, we reached out to Nikki and decided to intervene. We sent a letter to the district educating it about the existing case law that establishes the rights that students have to operate GSAs, and unequivocally demanded that it reverse its policy and make sure that students and teachers will not face retaliation for their efforts to form a club or to stand up for their right to do so. (See the press release and letter here). If the district does not comply with our request, it may be facing legal action.

The ACLU of Texas has worked hard to protect the rights of GSAs, and we will continue to make sure that schools respect the laws of our nation. If you are familiar with similar situations in your city, contact us at info@aclutx.org and let us know or go to our website and file a legal complaint. If we don’t know, we can’t help.

If you want to form a GSA club at your school, check out these tips.