HISD proposing policy update banning suspensions, expulsions for youngest students

The Houston Independent School District Board of Education on Thursday will consider a proposal that would ban suspensions and expulsions for students in second grade and below.

Under the proposal, campus administrators would not be allowed to suspend or expel pre-kindergarten through second-grade students in response to behavioral or disciplinary issues — except as required by state law. The policy revision further explains that students in third through fifth grades should only be removed from the school setting as a last resort.

In coordination with the proposed change in policy, HISD would provide a teacher mentoring system and annual classroom management and equity training to all campus-based faculty and staff. The training would focus on creating a positive school climate, preventing crisis and deescalating disciplinary issues.

Additionally, all principals would be required to review campus disciplinary data and develop an annual plan for improving their school climate, reducing instances of misbehavior and rectifying inequities.

The proposal is in response to research that shows young students — particularly those who are considered to be at-risk — often display challenging classroom behaviors as a result of outside trauma. Stressful situations outside of school, administrators say, often manifest in the form of unacceptable behaviors in the classroom.

“We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children,” HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. “We must take a hard look at how we are handling these issues to ensure we’re not contributing to an already stressful situation for these students.”

The proposed policy is designed to ensure discipline is administered equitably throughout the district. The training components are designed to help teachers better manage disruptive students so they don’t have to be removed from class.

During the 2014-2015 school year, 2,673 disciplinary incidents were reported for elementary school students in pre-kindergarten through second grades. Of those, the vast majority of incidents — 87 percent — involved students who were considered to be economically disadvantaged, at-risk, or both.

Though African American students make up just 25 percent of the district population, they were involved in 70 percent of disciplines incidents for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Male students make up just over half of the district population, but were involved in 84 percent of the discipline incidents reported for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade.

Under the proposal, administrators also would be prevented from placing pre-kindergarten through second-grade students in alternative education programs. School officials instead would be required to address the situation without physically sending the child home.

The policy change is in line with similar school districts around the country. Districts in Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle all are in the process of implementing similar policies, with some districts even going so far as to expand the plan to include all elementary grades.

Research shows that students who are exposed to high doses of adversity are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors. HISD’s proposed policy revision is designed to help students overcome adversity in their home lives, rather than be continually punished for it.

Research has also shown that schools with lower suspension rates also have higher achievement rates and narrowed achievement gaps, while schools with higher suspension rates see the opposite effect.

The board’s regular monthly meeting begins at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2015, in the board auditorium of the Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center, 4400 W. 18th Street. Click here to view the full agenda. The board meeting will be broadcast live online at www.hisdtv.org