Texas is close to enacting a law that would provide teachers with detailed information about the criminal histories of their students, opening juvenile files that have always been confidential and are unavailable in most states.
The legislation, spurred by the fatal stabbing of a high school teacher in Tyler in 2009, is adding to a national debate over whether teacher safety should outweigh the rights of young offenders, who traditionally have moved through the juvenile justice system with their privacy protected.
The new disclosure rules were passed by legislators with little public attention last month. A spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry said the governor is “thoughtfully” reviewing the measure before deciding whether to sign it.
Many juvenile justice experts oppose the new disclosures, saying that they would undercut the purpose of youth corrections–allowing young people to move beyond early mistakes to lead normal lives. But many educators insist that teachers are in too much danger.
“The bottom line is protecting teachers,” said Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican from the Dallas suburb of Plano, who sponsored the legislation.
Texas law already gives schools more background information on students than most states permit. The new law would significantly expand the details released, including accounts of crimes committed.
“This is a real departure from traditional juvenile court law,” said Sue Burrell, an attorney with the Youth Law Center, a San Francisco-based law firm that serves children in the justice system.
More than 4,200 young offenders have been paroled from the state juvenile justice system to enter Texas public schools over the last five years, according to Texas Youth Commission data. About 300 were convicted of aggravated sexual assault or aggravated robbery. No statistics on incidents in schools involving former offenders are available.
Under the new measure, law enforcement agencies must provide school superintendents with “all pertinent details” of the offenses committed by parolees, and superintendents must inform teachers. Teachers would also receive written notice of student arrests. Current law allows teachers to be told orally.