From left, Shadowbriar ES Principal Mark Samuel, Davis HS Principal Julissa Alcantar-Martinez, and HISD Chief Student Support Officer Mark Smith at the White House.
HISD representatives traveled to the White House on July 22 to participate in “Rethink School Discipline,” a convening on how to improve school discipline policies and practices. HISD Chief Student Support Officer Mark Smith, Davis High School Principal Julissa Alcantar-Martinez, and Shadowbriar Elementary School Principal Mark Samuel attended the conference.
Across the country, there is concern that zero-tolerance policies in schools are resulting in more student suspensions and expulsions, which places students on the streets when they should be learning in school. According to the Civil Rights Data Collection, more than 3 million students across the country are suspended or expelled every year.
“The convening was a great starting place to discuss the need for a change to the zero-tolerance approach to discipline,” Dr. Alcantar-Martinez said. “They prompted us to re-evaluate our code of conduct and to work with students to include their insight into discipline options at all levels. We plan to share with our peers and work toward exploring alternatives that keep kids in school, thus reducing suspensions.”
Student and employee safety is the top priority of the Houston Independent School District. HISD’s efforts to protect students and staff include a comprehensive school bus safety and student discipline strategy. HISD officials are aware of the student discipline concerns raised by the Houston Educational Support Personnel union and the district takes these concerns seriously. District officials are reviewing the Student Code of Conduct to determine whether revisions are necessary. This review will include an evaluation of the union’s request to include a more specific mechanism for suspending bus riding privileges for students with ongoing disciplinary issues.
Steps HISD has taken to ensure bus safety include:
• All bus drivers this year received four hours of student management training.
• Every HISD bus is equipped with at least two security video cameras.
• HISD transportation administrators conduct monthly roundtable discussions with employees at each bus terminal to hear employees’ concerns and address them.
HISD bus drivers are asked to report all disciplinary issues to their supervisors. The supervisors then investigate the incident by reviewing videotape, usually within 24 hours of receiving the complaint. Based on the results of the video, either the school and/or HSID police are informed of the incident and given the opportunity to review the video. Appropriate action is then taken by the school or police.
The HISD transportation department is unaware of any unresolved issues regarding specific incidents brought forward by bus drivers. Transportation officials have asked union officials to provide a list of specific instances in which they feel appropriate action was not taken, but we have received no such list at this point. If such a list is provided, HISD will investigate thoroughly.