HISD officials attend ‘Rethink School Discipline’ gathering at White House

White House convening

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.”

Participants discussed new tools and resources to be released by the Supportive School Discipline Initiative, launched by the Obama administration in 2011. Data and research proving the need for further action was presented, and school leaders from across the country shared ideas on dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline by fostering safe, supportive, and productive learning environments that keep kids in school and out of the juvenile justice system.

“This was a great experience that allowed me the opportunity to reflect on student discipline practices at both the campus and district level,” Samuel said. “In addition, it provided research and best practices to support equitable school-wide behavioral procedures for all students.”

In addition to educators, researchers, and non-profit leaders, the program included U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan; U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch; Assistant to the President and Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett; Cabinet Secretary Broderick Johnson; and Assistant to the President and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz.

“The conference shows that there are leaders across the country who are committed to doing this work,” Duncan said. “Creating and sustaining safe, supportive schools is absolutely essential to ensuring students can engage in the rich learning experiences they need for success in college, work, and life.”

New resources and initiatives to assist school leaders in their efforts to provide safe supportive school environments were announced at the convention:

For more information on the U.S. Department of Education’s work on rethinking discipline, including a video and data reports, please see this link.