Texas has seen a drastic increase in the number of students referred for violent threats in the wake of the recent mass school shootings in Parkland, FL and Santa Fe, TX. According to reports, the number of referrals has jumped 156 percent for the period running from January to May of 2018 when compared to the same period in 2017.
At first blush, this would seem to be a positive change: more school staff and administration taking the statements of students seriously in an effort to avoid another mass shooting. However, a deeper analysis of the numbers reveal that school staff, administrators, and resource officers are referring situations to law enforcement and exposing children to the juvenile justice system that should be handled as school discipline matters and not as crimes.
“The introduction of more children to the juvenile justice system will be one of the most difficult aspects of increased vigilance as it relates to school violence,” said Jackie Dodd, a Juvenile Law Attorney with The Ramage Law Group in McKinney, TX. “It is incredibly important that teachers and administrators be highly attuned to the statements and conditions of their students in order to avoid future violence; however, it will be incumbent upon those same individuals to try incredibly hard to only refer the most serious matters to law enforcement, and not every matter.”
The largest increases in law enforcement referrals came from the 10-13 age group, though children aged 13 to 14 still account for the most referrals. The referrals are broken down into two groups: terroristic threats and exhibition of firearms. However, reporting by juvenile advocacy groups found that 66 percent of the “exhibition of firearms” referrals were for threats of firearm usage only, not actual possession.
Introducing these children to the juvenile justice system will cause problems for them as they get older, as they will have established juvenile records that could affect college admissions and employment. As a disproportionate number of those referred are black children, it simply serves to create more barriers to success for an already challenged population.
If you have a child that has been the subject of a law enforcement referral for school violence threats, do not leave the outcome solely in the hands of the juvenile justice system. Your child deserves experienced legal representation that can ensure that any charges against your child are proper and supported by evidence. Even then, an attorney will be able to negotiate on your child’s behalf to resolve the matter.
Schools will continue to struggle with the line between school discipline issues and law enforcement referrals as it pertains to school violence issues. It should not mean that the rights of the child in a juvenile justice referral go ignored.