Education News

Debate Growing Over Use of Tasers, Pepper Spray In Schools

A group wants Governor Perry to ban Tasers, pepper spray in schools.

Last December, students were headed home on the school bus in Cleveland about an hour north of Houston.  When several students got into such a heated argument, the driver called for backup.

The story made the local news.

“A district police officer stepped in when things looked like things were going to get physical and the teen was shocked twice.”

The teen was a seventh grade girl. The officer was with the Cleveland school police department.

Police do use this kind of force on students in Texas. But it’s hard to know how often.

School police departments don’t report the use of force to state education officials or the Department of Public Safety.

Usually, details come from media reports, like this one near Austin last week.

“A debate is stirring in Round Rock tonight after police used a Taser on a 16 year old student today.”

Another case from late last year has drawn national scrutiny.

“We’ve learned tonight that the FBI investigation will look into among other things whether the Bastrop County’s sheriff’s deputy used excessive force when he fired his Taser on a 17-year-old student, changing his life forever.”

That student Noe Niño de Rivera is still recovering. When he was shocked, he fell and hit his head so hard that he ended up with a brain injury.

A coalition of civil rights and children’s advocates doesn’t want that to happen again.

They’re asking the governor to ban Tasers and pepper spray in schools.

Deborah Flower is with the group Texas Appleseed.

“Whether you’re talking about Tasers or pepper spray, they come with high risks both to the kids that the police officers may be targeting but also to bystanders.”

Fowler says she’s also concerned about how officers may use them to break up fights.

“What’s ironic is that we do have regulations that control when or how these weapons can be used on children in juvenile justice facilities.”

In those juvenile justice centers, Tasers aren’t allowed. Pepper spray is permitted only in certain cases.

But in schools, it can vary widely.

In the Houston school district, police don’t carry Tasers. Trained officers may carry pepper foam.

In Cleveland, the school police chief Rex Evans says his officers have used force only once in about seven years.

That was when the seventh grade girl was tased twice on the bus.

Evans says that police officer acted appropriately.

“We have to have these things just like any other police officers anywhere else in the world has to have those devices. Just because we’re on a school campus certainly doesn’t negate the fact that we need intermediate weapons and up to sadly lethal force availability.”

When it comes to those intermediate weapons in public schools, it seems Gov. Rick Perry wants to stay out of it.

His office says he believes it should be a local decision.

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Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for Houston Public Media, including K-12 and higher education. Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and contributed to South Florida’s NPR affiliate. Her work has also appeared in The Dallas Morning News, Reuters and Clarín in Argentina. Laura has won awards for...

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