School-to-Prison Pipeline: How it Affects RGV Students

Words by Melissa Cortes

Edited by Abigail Vela

People standing outside the courthouse holding posters.
Community members protesting the criminal charges against Timothy Murray outside the Cameron County Juvenile Justice System. Photo courtesy of Divest/Invest RGV.

After battling against Cameron County prosecutors and officials from the Brownsville Independent School District for nearly half a year, Nadia Rincon and her 11-year-old son, Timothy, were finally able to receive some good news. The criminal charges against Timothy were dismissed by Cameron County Judge Adela Kowalski-Garza, citing a lack of evidence by prosecutors. 

 

The decision came during a hearing held on Feb. 14 and was met with cheers by protesters who had gathered outside the courtroom. Members of Divest/Invest RGV were in attendance, holding posters that read “Counselors not Cops” and featured an image of Timothy proudly holding trophies he received for academic excellence. 

This latest development in the case has offered some relief for Nadia and Timothy after many institutions had failed them along the way. However, there is still the possibility of District Attorney Luis Saenz filing a petition to continue pursuing the charges within the next five years. Meaning that up until he’s 16 years old, Timothy can potentially be charged. 

 

This case has made headlines and highlights deep injustices in our current education system, especially here in the Rio Grande Valley. Disciplinary actions taken by schools that criminalize children have lasting effects on their mental health. 

A Look Back at the Case

The Texas Observer first reported the charges against Timothy back in November. The article detailed how, in September, school officials from Palm Grove Elementary retaliated against Timothy after he sought out counseling services.

 

This retaliation culminated in his arrest on Sept. 8, after the school principal, Myrta Garza, called the police following an unsubstantiated rumor that Timothy had threatened to kill her. Timothy was handcuffed and placed in solitary confinement for three days. He was only allowed to speak to his mom after he started having a panic attack.

Three people standing outside a courtroom.
Nadia, Timothy and their attorney, Sara Stapleton Barrera, standing outside the courtroom after the judge dismissed the charges against Timothy for lack of evidence. Photo courtesy of Divest/Invest RGV.

“I honestly could not believe it,” said Nadia Rincon, Timothy’s mom. “I’ve been in this country for 12 years, and I know that you cannot arrest somebody if you don’t have any evidence or nothing against that person.” 

Timothy’s detainment was deeply troubling and shocking to Nadia. She was surprised to learn that the school had its own police and the extent of power that school officials had. Having moved from Uvalde, the stark differences between the two school districts were startling. 


According to Nadia, there was more collaboration between the school administration and parents in Uvalde. Parents were encouraged to be involved in their children’s education and received support from teachers. In Brownsville, she felt things were more rigid, and school officials were stricter with students.

After his detainment, Timothy was sent home on conditional release. He transferred to another school, but the retaliation from school officials continued. He was charged with aggravated assault after a student claimed Timothy tried to cut him with scissors. This charge continued even after the student retracted their statement.

Prosecutors were adamant about pursuing a criminal case against Timothy and asked for more time to gather evidence at a hearing in December. Around the same time, the Texas Observer published a follow-up story about the case, which detailed parents’ complaints against Myrta Garza, the principal who called the police on Timothy. She had previously become aggressive or called Child Protective Services on parents who disagreed with her. 


“You never think that somebody’s gonna act like that because the teachers are supposed to love kids,” said Nadia.

People holding posters that read “Counselors not cops” protesting outside.
Members of the community organization Divest/Invest RGV protesting outside the courtroom. Photo courtesy of Divest/Invest RGV.

School-to-Prison Pipeline in Brownsville ISD

The school-to-prison pipeline refers to a systematic issue in which school policies push children into the criminal justice system. Due to a lack of mental health resources and support in many schools, disciplinary action is taken against students who need the most help. Oftentimes, this comes in the form of detention, suspension, expulsion and even arrests by school police officers. Actions like these push vulnerable students into the juvenile criminal system. 

 

Timothy’s case is, unfortunately, not that unique. Many other children have had to suffer similar consequences. According to data obtained by the Texas Observer, between May 2021 and  November 2023, Brownsville ISD made 3,102 student arrests, 59 percent of which were for felony charges. There were 76 arrests of students 10 to 11 years old from the start of the previous school year to November of last year. 

 

The school-to-prison pipeline does not benefit students and can inflict trauma on many of them. There needs to be an evaluation of the current practices, and serious reform is desperately needed. 

 

Having to deal with the police at such a young age is a traumatic experience. After his detainment, Nadia describes Timothy as being less trusting and often anxious. Although the case had been dismissed, the experience will follow Nadia and Timothy for a long time. 

 

For information on how to help and follow updates on Timothy’s case, check out Divest/Invest RGV’s social media pages.

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