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May 12 2016

How a $2 Bill Got an 8th Grader in Hot Water

Patrice J. Lee

Zero tolerance rules in schools are turning innocent children into criminals with records. Now, other innocent students have to worry about the school police coming after them as . . .  counterfeiters.

A thirteen year old girl in Houston, Texas was arrested recently after she used a $2 bill given to her by her grandmother to purchase her lunch. The girl passed the bill off to lunch workers to pay for her chicken tender meal and they told her the bill was fake.

This teenage, who apparently doesn’t routinely get into trouble, was marched off to the police officer and told she was in big trouble. She faced counterfeit charges. School police started their investigation with a call to her grandmother:

School officials called Daneisha's grandmother Sharon Kay Joseph.

"She's never in trouble, so I was nervous going in there," she recalled to abc13.

The officials asked, "'Did you give Danesiah a $2 bill for lunch?' He told me it was fake," she said.

Then the Fort Bend ISD police investigated the $2 bill with the vigor of an episode of Dragnet, even though at that school 82-percent of kids are poor enough to get free or reduced price lunch.

The alleged theft of $2 worth of chicken tenders led a campus officer -- average salary $45,000 a year -- to the convenience store that gave grandma the $2 bill.

Next stop -- and these are just the facts -- the cop went to a bank to examine the bill.

Finally, the mystery was solved: The $2 bill wasn't a fake at all. It was real.

"He brought me my two dollar bill back," Joseph said. He didn't apologize. He should have and the school should have because they pulled Danesiah out of lunch and she didn't eat lunch that day because they took her money."

A two-dollar bill is an oddity, but not fake. It’s the rarest small denomination in US currency and it is still in circulation. It’s most often used for tipping.

The intensity with which this school officer investigated the authenticity of the $2 bill makes us wonder what his priorities are. Surely, his time would have been more valuable investigating other real crimes or misbehavior rather than tracking down the origin of a $2 bill.

More disturbingly though is that this is not the first investigation like this at this school system and across the state. When the reporter in this story examined police reports for the 2013-14 school year and 2016 dealing with lunch line forgery in Houston, Fort Bend, and Cy-Fair, he found 40 such silly investigations. Disproportionately, those charged were students of color.

Not all of the cases resulted in an arrest and the district attorney declined to even look at many of them, However, the police have been involved with all of them and some students have been sent to alternative schools while cases are investigated.

For a kid earning A’s and B’s with no track record of getting into trouble, being uprooted that can be damaging punishment itself – even if they aren’t proven guilty. Students would be charged with forgery, which is a third-degree felony in Texas, and if found guilty, could be sentenced to 2 to 10 years in prison. Even if the student gets away with just probation, that felony sits on their record for a lifetime and there’s no guarantee that it would ever be expunged.

The Houston teen was lucky to get off unscathed, but another 13-year-old at Cy-Fair ISD Cook Middle School may not. He faces a steep penalty behind bars for passing off what turned out to be a fake $10 bill. His parents thought it was real, but it failed the forgery test. He was charged with a felony and while his case is investigated, this good student, who actually qualified for free lunch, is in an alternative school awaiting his fate.

The school-to-prison pipeline is a real issue that leads kids (especially from poor homes or foster care) to a life in and out of the penal system. Not only is it a financial burden on taxpayers, but a societal burden when kids drop out of school and turn to a life of crime to sustain themselves.

Passing off counterfeit money should not be taken lightly, but it is unlikely that thirteen-year-olds are knowingly doing this.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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