Nine Texas advocacy groups are calling for Governor Abbott to appoint a task force to address school policing.
In a letter sent to the Governor’s office on Tuesday, the organizations argue that school police officers across the state have repeatedly used inappropriate force on students.
The letter highlights three recent cases in Texas that garnered a lot of media attention.
In April, a cell phone video circulated from an incident at Rhodes Middle School in San Antonio. The video shows a school police officer body-slamming a 12-year-old student to the ground. The officer in the video has since been fired.
“Although the district did the right thing and fired the officer for misconduct,” Matt Simpson with American Civil Liberties Union of Texas said, “we feel like we need to get out ahead of this and prevent these incidents that make our schools less safe and make students feel uncomfortable at school.”
Simpson said ACLU and the other groups that signed the letter on Tuesday are requesting that a task force be put in place immediately.
“This is a good time for the Governor to talk to parents and students, as well as those who have good ideas for reform to look at ways to get out ahead of this,” Simpson said. “So we don’t continue to have videos of misconduct coming out.”
A lawsuit was filed in April in Abilene against Abilene police officer Barry Bond, the city of Abilene, and the Abilene Independent School District. The complaint details the rough handling of three students who were repeatedly slammed into a desk in response to a tantrum. One of the students, according to the lawsuit, was 6 years old.
“We’ve seen these cases crop up statewide and from district to district and so that’s why we really can’t say that it is an isolated incident, or something that is a problem just in one district,” Deborah Fowler with Texas Appleseed said.”It’s really a problem that we think needs scrutiny statewide.”
Fowler said these cases are becoming more more dangerous across the state. Fowler referenced a 2013 incident in Bastrop as an example of how quickly an situation can escalate.
In 2013, Noe Niño de Rivera was tased by a school resource officer at Cedar Creek High School. Niño de Rivera hit his head on the floor after being tased and spent 52 days in a medically induced coma. He now suffers traumatic brain injury.
“We are hoping to delineate when it is appropriate for school law enforcement to step in and when student behavior is more appropriately handled by an administrator or a teacher,” Fowler said.
The letter asks for a task force to be put in place before next legislative session, made up of state leaders, law enforcement, and school administrators.
In 2015, the Texas legislature recognized the need to address the issue. Lawmakers required that officers in school districts with more than 30,000 students undergo training on working with younger students on school campuses.
However, the letter sent to Governor Abbott this week points out that approximately half of all Texas students reside in school districts with fewer than 30,000 students.
“When it all boils down to it, we want schools to be a place where kids can learn, we don’t want it to be a place where officers are kind of overstepping their role,” Simpson said, “and sometimes that is going to mean a school police officer might have to choose to deescalate a situation rather than taking control and getting physically involved.”
We reached out to Governor Greg Abbott’s office, and his staffers said they do not have any comment at this time.