Report: Texas student arrests have soared since Parkland, Santa Fe

By Austin American-Statesman

July 18–More Texas students are being arrested for terroristic threats and firearm violations since mass shootings at high schools in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, according to a Tuesday report commissioned by social advocacy groups.

About 1,470 law enforcement referrals were made for terroristic threats and exhibition of firearms from January through May, the study found. Referrals to law enforcement for terroristic threats are up 156 percent compared with the same period last year, while referrals for exhibition of firearms have jumped sevenfold.

Sixty-six percent of the referrals for exhibition of firearms were in response to threats, not actual possession, according to the “Collateral Consequences” report.

“Students are being unnecessarily arrested and funneled into the juvenile justice system, causing lifelong damages to young people, while schools fail to distinguish between actual safety threats and ordinary child behavior,” the report said.

Texas Appleseed, Disability Rights Texas, Children’s Defense Fund-Texas and the Earl Carl Institute for Legal and Social Policy Inc. authored the study. The report’s findings are based on data Texas Appleseed obtained from the Texas Juvenile Justice Department.

Texas school officials have said heightened vigilance helps to thwart attacks. In the Austin school district, more than 170 threats of violence were investigated over the past two academic years.

“When there’s a terroristic threat … it’s something where it’s caused a substantial alarm or there’s more to it before they make an arrest,” said Gregg Anderson, executive director of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers. “We can’t turn a discipline issue into a criminal offense.”

School resource officers weigh factors such as age and mental culpability when determining whether to arrest a student who made threats, Anderson said.

“The large majority of the time the officers are doing everything they can to keep from putting them in the criminal justice system,” he said.

Two Central Texas school districts, Bastrop and Killeen, were listed in the study among 14 state districts with the highest percentage of school-based referrals for terroristic threats.

Most referrals for terroristic threats and exhibition of firearms were recorded among students ages 13 and 14, but 10- to 13-year-olds saw the largest increase in referrals compared with last year.

The report also found that black students represented 24 percent of referrals for terroristic threats and 31 percent of referrals for exhibition of firearms, despite making up just 13 percent of students statewide.

“It is not entirely surprising given that in pretty much all exclusionary discipline referrals, black students are overrepresented,” said Morgan Owens, juvenile justice fellow at the Earl Carl Institute.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department was not able to provide data on students with disabilities, but the report said that anecdotal evidence suggests they are also overrepresented in arrests.

The study recommends that Texas schools and lawmakers employ approaches that avoid harming students. It recommends that schools use free training provided by the Texas School Safety Center this summer, and it calls on the Legislature to approve funding for “research-based, multi-tiered” school safety approaches that include threat assessment models.

This article provided by NewsEdge.