By James Pinkerton
HOUSTON — The state's education commissioner should ban the use of Tasers, pepper spray and other "less-than-lethal" weapons in all public schools, according to a request delivered this week from the ACLU and six other civil rights groups.
The groups have mounted a campaign to ban Tasers and other weapons from schools, citing a November incident in which an Austin area student was shocked by a deputy responding to a fight in the hall.
Noe De Rivera, 17, who in surveillance tape appears to have been backing away from officers, was stunned and fell to the floor, hitting his head.
The teenager was in a medically-induced coma for 52 days, and his family says he has suffered brain damage.
"Texas families deserve to send their children to school without fear, knowing they can trust their schools to be safe havens," reads portions of a letter addressed to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael L. Williams.
Who Supports Action
The ban is supported by Disability Rights, Texas, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Texans Care for Children, Texas Appleseed, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe said Thursday that neither the commissioner nor the agency has the authority to do that.
School district trustees and the boards of nonprofit corporations granted state charters make that decision, she said.
"There is no authorization in state law that would allow TEA to prohibit law enforcement personnel from carrying or using tasers or pepper spray in the course of their duties within public school," Ratcliffe said.
"That is a conversation that has to take place among local elected officials."
In December, the same groups asked the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement to ban the use of tasers at schools.
The agency said it does not believe it has the authority to prohibit police in schools from using the devices, officials with the civil rights groups say.
No Stun Guns In HISD
The Houston Independent School District does not equip its officers with Tasers, and one local school district has said their officers only use Tasers in violent situations as a way to avoid using a firearm on a student.
Matt Simpson, policy strategist with the ACLU of Texas, noted there are no regulations or policies that regulate Taser and pepper spray use in Texas schools.
"Despite incidences of this kind and growing documentation of use of force in schools statewide, no regulations exist limiting the use of these weapons on our students," Simpson said.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2014 the Houston Chronicle