AUSTIN — All across the country, conversations are happening about how to improve interactions between police and their communities. In Texas, the discussion includes the possibility of requiring a high school class covering how to act during police encounters.
In Cristal Misplay's third grade class in Round Rock, her eight-year-old scholars have no shortage of questions. "They do bring up everything," said Misplay. "I do my best to answer their questions, as long as it's relevant to what we're learning at the time."
When those questions turn to police and scary images on TV, says Misplay, "We bring it back to what we already teach in our school. We talk about being good citizens."
Now one Texas lawmaker wants to add that conversation to the mandatory high school curriculum. State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), who chairs the Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee, laid out his proposal to KVUE last week.
"I want to start in high school, the ninth grade, requiring students to take a course where they learn what their rights are, what due process is, understand the police officer and his stressful job," said Whitmire, who also recommends additional training for police. "I think that could be a positive step. I'd like everyone to take the course."
The idea was part of a discussion with law enforcement leaders last week at the Texas Capitol. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo told media afterward, "Unfortunately, not every parent takes the time to teach their kids how to interact with the police, and some parents, quite frankly, may try to sabotage their kids' future by not teaching them the right things."
"It's actually crucial to get that relationship mended and back together," said Misplay, who has a unique perspective. "I worked in law enforcement for eight years, so I definitely see both sides of it."
Before becoming a teacher, Deputy Misplay worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office.
"I see how important it is to foster a relationship in the community from a police officer's standpoint," said Misplay, "But I also see it from a teacher's standpoint of all the things that we already do in such a short period of time during our day. So would I be willing to do it? Absolutely, but I'm not sure if it's going about it the right way."
Misplay points to the numerous duties teachers already perform outside of their official roles as the classroom instructor, and notes many teachers have already taken it upon themselves to invite law enforcement officers to host classroom discussions. Meanwhile, requirement or not, the big lesson remains the same.
"We teach them how to respond to everybody, how to respond to each other: What is the right way," said Misplay.