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Concerning School Policing In Pasadena ISD Requires New Community Action

After several years working in education, I decided to go to law school to use my passion for teaching to be a lawyer for the kids the education system leaves behind. Through my work and studies in education, one constant theme I uncovered is that systems of power often criminalize kids, especially Black, brown, and poor children. With the Criminal Injustice team at Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP), I am on the forefront of the effort to end school policing — starting with a closer look into the troubling school policing record of Pasadena ISD.

During TCRP’s investigation into student discipline and school policing across the state of Texas, Pasadena has stood out as an outlier both in terms of the sheer number of kids facing disciplinary action as well as the discriminatory impact of these punishment practices on Pasadena ISD’s students.

Across the previous three school years, data from the district revealed that PISD had over 1,400 instances in which students were referred to law enforcement, with students as young as 10 years old. From 2018-2019, 8,942 different students were removed from their regular classroom placement. That’s over 15% of all students.

The negative effects of this cycle of discipline disproportionately affect Pasadena’s Black students. Across the three years we analyzed, Black students, who make up around 7.5% of the student body, accounted for 19.4% of referrals to police. As horrifying as this data is, it likely underestimates the actual role of law enforcement on PISD campuses because of in-person learning interruptions over the past three years.

In response to the discovery of these troubling numbers, we sent a letter to the Pasadena ISD School Board to alert them of these numbers and demand an explanation. We also began holding town hall meetings in the local community of Pasadena to inform and engage the community around the school policing practices that are impacting their children. In these community initiatives, we distributed valuable resources like our Know Your Rights guide for parents and students to navigate disciplinary measures at school. We also began an open dialogue of communication with community members, many of which shared our deep concerns about the dangers of policing in schools.

Travis Fife addresses the community at a town hall meeting in Pasadena, Texas.

Across Texas, students walk into school every day surrounded by surveillance, police presence, and harsh disciplinary policies. Far from promoting safety, the marriage between law enforcement and education criminalizes students facing poverty from a young age. At wealthy schools, parents may have the means to provide struggling kids with additional resources such as tutoring, mental health counseling, and greater access to extracurricular activities. In poorer schools, students who struggle often end up suspended, expelled, or arrested. These inequities sustain intergenerational poverty as those with the least resources are the most likely to end up excluded from the educational services they need.

Our Criminal Injustice team is challenging these oppressive systems by continuing our critical community engagement work and standing with students, parents, teachers, and other advocates calling for police-free schools. Together, we can make strides towards a public education system where all children are supported and allowed to flourish with equal opportunities to quality education.

You can contribute to our work to end school policing here, and if you or someone you know has been impacted by student discipline practices in Texas, contact studentdiscipline@texascivilrightsproject.org.

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