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Does Teacher Safety Outweigh the Rights of Youth Offenders? Texas Legislators Say ‘Yes

Rick Perry

Gov. Rick Perry is deciding on a law that would allow schools to view the dirty laundry of youth offenders

A high school teacher in Tyler, Texas, was fatally stabbed by a student in 2009. It is that case that prompted state legislators to see if they can get a law passed allowing schools to have access to detailed information about the criminal histories of their students — files that have traditionally been confidential in most states.

Youth offenders have up until now been allowed to move through the juvenile justice system with their privacy intact.

The new disclosure rules were passed last month and are now being reviewed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry before he decides if he’ll sign.

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, who sponsored the legislation.

The new law in Texas would require law enforcement agencies to provide school superintendents with “‘all pertinent details” of crimes committed by parolees, and then the teachers would be informed. At present, teachers are told orally of student arrests, but under the new measure, they would receive written notice. The new law would also significantly increase the details included in the reports provided to schools.

Nearly every state requires that schools be notified when a student commits a crime and is formally judged “delinquent.”

Some juvenile justice advocates are also concerned about the potential new law, worrying that students with a criminal background will be placed in alternative education programs or discriminated against as a matter of course.

Others applaud the measure, saying that for teachers forced to see in the dark when dealing with problem students, they’ll be able to work with eyes wide open.

Teachers’ groups in Texas are said to be all for the measure.

It seems to me like a sticky issue. On the one hand, I don’t see how kids identified as delinquents wouldn’t be discriminated against, which could cause them to be stigmatized further for years to come. On the other hand, everyone’s physical safety should come first — period.

What do you think? Should these records be public to ensure teacher safety, or is it unfair to the kids and leaving them at a disadvantage if they attempt to move on from past transgressions?

Image: Wikipedia

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