Shared from the 9/16/2019 Houston Chronicle eEdition


Stop suspensions

Exclusionary discipline for youngest kids hurts academic achievement and self-esteem.

The thought of a preschooler being suspended for horseplay or violating the school dress code is disturbing. So it’s good news that a 2017 Texas law has helped drastically reduce the number of incidents where early elementary students were sent home for their alleged infractions.

In the year after Texas banned such suspensions in all but the most extreme cases involving drugs or weapons for students in pre-K through second grade, the number of out-of-school suspensions dropped to 7,640 in 2017-18, down from a whopping 36,475 a year earlier.

The total number of suspensions — including those where the child remained on campus— also plummeted: 101,248 to 70,197, according to a report from Texans Care for Children.

That is a sign of clear progress and brings Texas in line with a number of other states, school districts and municipalities prohibiting or limiting discipline policies that remove young children from the classroom.

But some of the report findings are reason for continued concern.

Despite the law, and volumes of research that show suspension can cause long-term harm and set back academic progress, some Texas districts continue to use out-of-school suspension to punish young children.

Texans Care for Children counted more than 7,600 out-of-school suspensions issued to early elementary students, including 566 to preschoolers.

Killeen ISD, located between Austin and Waco, accounted for 303 — or 54 percent — of the state’s pre-K out-of school suspensions. In the Houston region, Klein ISD gave out-of-school suspension to 24 kindergartners and 58 first- and second-graders. In Alief ISD, 64 first- and second-graders received out-of-school suspension.

Even Houston ISD, which in 2016 passed a policy banning the use of suspension for students under third grade and specifying that third-through fifth-graders should be removed from school only as a “last resort,” continues to use out-of-school suspensions. HISD did not respond to a question about the contradiction by deadline.

The Texans Care for Children report showed that 81 first- and second-graders in HISD received out-of-school suspension in the 2017-18 school year. Statistics posted on the district website show that out-of-school suspension was issued for 91 early elementary students, including 12 preschoolers and kindergartners.

That persistent trend — seemingly in violation of state law and, in HISD’s case, the district’s own policy — is alarming.

This kind of punishment is not only ineffective, it removes a child from the classroom and sends the message that they are not welcome in a school setting. It results in the loss of valuable instructional time and can hobble chances of academic success.

In addition, the state law did virtually nothing to reduce the number of suspensions where children remain on campus. What’s more, districts disproportionately suspend kids in foster care, special education students, black students and boys.

Now, imagine the impact on a pre-K child, who is just being introduced to an academic setting, who is just learning how to navigate campus rules, who may be grappling with trauma, hunger or learning disabilities. Imagine that a teacher guided by implicit bias can write up a discipline referral that derails that student’s future school success.

A report from the American Psychological Association also found that discipline policies that exclude children from the classroom result in lower academic achievement for the entire student body.

The 2017 state law was a first step in breaking that cycle. More needs to be done at the district and school level.

All districts should ban exclusionary discipline for early elementary students. In 2014-15, before HISD passed its policy, it issued 2,669 suspensions of pre-K to second-grade students. Three years later, according to district data, that number was down to 264.

More schools also need to adopt restorative justice practices, which include meditation, mindfulness and emotional support for troubled students. They can conduct implicit bias training for teachers and bring in mental health consultants who can counsel teachers on how to remain calm and focused in dealing with challenging students. Districts also need to invest in mental health support and counseling for children.

By focusing more on help rather than punishment, schools can boost academic achievement, reduce dropout rates and reinforce self-esteem. If they do that, we will all benefit.

See this article in the e-Edition Here