In the aftermath of a tragedy like a school shooting, one of the first things people try to figure out is what can be done to prevent another such tragedy. That routine happened again following two prominent school shootings this year. The shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14 left seventeen people dead. On May 18, ten people were killed at Santa Fe High School in Texas. At the end of May, Governor Greg Abbott published a “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan” and lawmakers, including the Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security, began hearings to address school violence. Meanwhile, many Texas schools responded to the issue of school violence by simply arresting more of their students, according to a report by Texas Appleseed, a nonprofit for social and economic justice.
The report, titled “Collateral Consequences, The Increase in Texas Student Arrests Following the Parkland and Santa Fe Tragedies,” documents a sharp increase in the number of referrals to the Texas Juvenile Justice Department for students charged with either “terroristic threat” or “exhibition of a firearm.” From 2017 to 2018, referrals for terroristic threats increased by 156 percent, the report concluded. And there was a 600 percent increase of referrals for exhibition of firearms (a majority of which, 66 percent, did not actually include possession of a firearm). It may seem that these schools are being proactive in following up on potential safety threats, but Deborah Fowler, the executive director of Texas Appleseed, says that schools are falling back on a zero-tolerance approach to addressing school violence, an approach that doesn’t accurately assess threat levels and that research has proven ineffective in keeping schools safe. Examples of arrests made in the report exemplify the disproportionate response of zero-tolerance policies, such as a 17-year-old student who was taken to jail for pulling a school fire alarm and a 12-year-old student with a disability who was arrested for pointing a finger gun at imaginary creatures in an empty hallway. In another incident, a 15-year-old was arrested for making a terroristic threat after a teacher asked him to remove his backpack and he joked, “It’s not like it’s going to blow up.”