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Houston ISD's Suspension Vote Could Help Texas' Youngest Children

The Houston ISD will vote on a proposal Thursday to ban suspensions for its youngest students. Credit: eropdfklcvnm/Wikimedia Commons
The Houston ISD will vote on a proposal Thursday to ban suspensions for its youngest students. Credit: eropdfklcvnm/Wikimedia Commons
November 11, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas - The Houston Independent School District on Thursday will consider a proposal to ban suspensions for its youngest students.

According to a new report by the advocacy group Texas Appleseed, thousands of the state's children - many in pre-kindergarten - are suspended and labeled "problem students" by teachers and peers, setting them on an early path to drop out of school.

"Three groups of students tend to be disproportionately punished with in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and placements in these alternative programs," said Morgan Craven, who directs the group's school-to-prison pipeline project. "Black students, boys and children with special-education needs."

The report found that during the 2013-14 school year, more than 88,000 out-of-school suspensions were issued to Texas children in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Nearly 37,000 went to students in kindergarten through second grade. Craven said blacks, who make up just 13 percent of the elementary-school population, accounted for 42 percent of all out-of-school suspensions.

Under Texas law, discipline options for young students are the same as for older students. Craven said energetic four-year-olds should not be ejected from school for acting their age.

Behavior is frequently a sign of more serious issues that can be addressed more effectively with evaluations and assistance, she said, adding that removing young children from the classroom who are in the process of developing their self-identities and forging relationships with teachers and peers can be devastating.

"We really encourage schools to use positive strategies to really again support good behavior and model good behavior," she said, "rather than using these exclusions which research has again and again proved are ineffective."

The Houston ISD proposal would ban suspensions for pre-kindergarten through second grade and only would allow suspensions through the fifth grade as a last resort. Expulsions required by state law - for students who bring weapons to school, for example - would remain in effect. Craven said she is hopeful that the ban will pass in Houston and spread to other districts so more Texas children will have an opportunity for a better future.

The report is online at slate.adobe.com. The proposal is at blogs.houstonisd.org.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - TX