By Frank Knaack Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy This week, a federal court held that Hidalgo County violated the Constitution when the County sent our teenage clients to jail for unpaid costs and fines without first offering them an indigency determination.  What made this case even more egregious was the fact that our clients received their fines for truancy. The fact that our clients were hauled into court at all for simply missing school illustrates the abdication of responsibility from school administrators to law enforcement and the courts that is increasingly common in Texas public schools. Cases like Francisco's,  while disturbing, are not unique. As we previously reported, “[o]n Christmas Eve 2004, thirteen year-old Francisco De Luna’s father died unexpectedly of a heart attack.  Less than five months later, Francisco was introduced to the Texas criminal justice system for the first time.  His crime?  According to the narrative attached to his ticket, he had a defiant attitude toward school officials and ‘did not want to learn.’  Really?  After enduring a family tragedy, Francisco started acting out, as many kids do when trying to cope with such a loss.  During the next two and a half years, Francisco received a dozen more criminal tickets for wearing baggy pants, cursing, and refusing to follow a teacher’s instructions.  But instead of recognizing the fragile and sensitive nature of Francisco’s situation, school officials criminalized his behavior.” Francisco’s case highlights the counterproductive nature of punitive school discipline.  As ACLU of Texas Legal Director Lisa Graybill pointed out, “locking up low-income kids in what is functionally a debtor’s prison compounds the very problem that truancy laws are supposed to address by pushing students who need help into the criminal justice system instead of back into school where they belong.” Instead of continuing the failed model of using courts to address truancy, it is time for Texas schools to embrace evidence-based behavioral models like positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS).  Where implemented in Texas, PBIS has been shown to reduce ticketing, reduce arrests, increase attendance, and create a more positive school environment.  How many more kids like Francisco is Texas going to funnel into the school-to-prison pipeline before remedying this abuse? Want to help us seal the school-to-prison pipeline? Click here and sign up to be a Youth Rights CAN member!