AUSTIN (KXAN) - As thousands of Central Texas children go back to class, schools have one less option to discipline students.
Two new similar Texas laws go into effect next week that stop campus police from writing tickets to any student under the age of 17.
"I think there had come a point in time in school district policing that the officers may have been called in first," said Austin ISD Police Chief Eric Mendez.
The intent is for Texas schools to handle the students first using their own code of conduct instead of issuing them a ticket for a Class C misdemeanor for things like fighting, drugs, or disrupting class.
There's been a push to curb student ticketing for some time. Two years ago, KXAN reported on some of the small disruptions that sent students to court -- everything from a student putting on perfume in class to throwing a paper airplane. The public interest law center Texas Appleseed has studied the issue and published reports full of data. It says the new laws are a major step toward decriminalizing minor misbehavior in school.
Chief Mendez said just because tickets are no longer an option for most students, they are not off the hook.
"Don't mistake what you're hearing -- we may not issue a citation, but you can still be summoned to court for those violations," said Chief Mendez.
There are steps that must take place between the school district and the police department for serious cases.
AISD parent Candace Buck-Ledesma likes the new laws.
"There should be discipline but not tickets," said Ledesma. "If they keep on accumulating more and more tickets they're going to go to juvenile [court] and that sticks with them. It labels them as criminals."
AISD has made an effort over the last several years to write fewer tickets and have succeeded.
During the 2012-2013 school year officers issued about 740 tickets which was a 29-percent drop from the year before.
"I would want to encourage the district to not just look at the numbers," said Ken Zarifis, president of the local teachers union Education Austin.
He hopes schools focus on the process to get kids back on the right track.
"You can write fewer tickets, you can write less paperwork, but are you impacting the problem?" said Zarifis.
Campus police can still write tickets to 17 and 18 year olds, who are mostly seniors. Chief Mendez said the same rules still apply -- a ticket will be the last resort after administrators and teachers try to help the student on campus.
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