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Friday, March 1, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Watchdog Wants Info on Police|Use of Force Against Schoolkids

HOUSTON (CN) - Police in Texas public schools are increasingly using force against children, including Tasers and pepper spray, and the "overwhelming majority" of police "interventions" involve "low-level, non-violent misdemeanors like disruption of class or disorderly conduct," a public interest group says.

Texas Appleseed claims the Spring Branch Independent School District is putting students at risk and violating the law by refusing to release its "use of force" policy.

More than 75 percent of Spring Branch, a suburb northwest of Houston, is black or Latino. The school district claims its use of force policy is exempt from disclosure because of the exception for law enforcement.

Texas Appleseed says it sent open records requests to 24 Texas school districts, seeking their police departments' use of force policies, and 11 produced the documents. The group say its investigation revealed accounts of police in Texas public schools using pepper spray and Tasers on students.

"The public interest in ensuring full dialogue around policies relating to use force on Texas school children outweighs any risk to SBISD-PD's ability to affect arrests or engage in law enforcement on its campuses," Texas Appleseed says in its complaint in Harris County Court.

Appleseed says that reports of Texas school police using pepper spray and Tasers on school children are becoming more common. It says the data its has received shows the "overwhelming majority of law enforcement interventions on Texas school campuses involve school-aged children cited or arrested for low-level, non-violent misdemeanors like disruption of class or disorderly conduct."

In response to Appleseed's request, Spring Branch I.S.D. says it sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office, which sided with the district, saying it use of force policies fell under the law enforcement exception to the Pubic Information Act, according to the complaint.

Texas Appleseed concedes that police in Texas schools must strike a delicate balance between protecting students from violent peers, reacting quickly to fast-moving situations and protecting innocent bystanders from the tactics they use to maintain order. But it says the use of pepper spray is inappropriate for use in schools because the airway of a small child is more fragile than an adults, and children with asthma are particularly vulnerable.

"The consequences of using Tasers on children can be even more devastating," Texas Appleseed says. "Death following Taser use and studies of their safety call into question the appropriateness of the use of Tasers on Texas school children."

Texas Appleseed wants to see the use of force policies, and it wants court costs. It is represented by William Knull III with Mayer Brown of Houston.

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