New Texas laws catches up with school-related research
Editor’s Note: This editorial was published in The Dallas Morning News and mentions Dallas Independent School District but we find its relevance important regarding new Texas laws.
It’s encouraging when we can report that a good law is delivering on its intended results.
Such is the case with a Texas rule that banned out-ofschool suspensions for the state’s youngest students except in cases of bringing weapons or drugs to school.
A new report from the advocacy group Texans Care for Children shows that the number of pre-K through second grade kids kicked out of school dropped nearly 80% the first year the law was in effect, from 36,475 in 2015-2016 to 7,640 in 2017-2018.
State law caught up with years of research that shows suspensions of these kids, some as young as 4, did little to improve behavior and kept too many kids on a downward spiral throughout their school careers.
That’s the good news.
We’re concerned that thousands of kids, more than 60,000, are still being removed from class on in-school suspensions. And a disproportionately high number of them are in special ed, or foster care, or they are boys or black. Even in controlled academic studies, black children who behaved appropriately in class endured disproportionate suspensions, according to the report.
Teachers have to be able to control their classrooms. Sometimes removal is required. Bringing a weapon to school or harassment and making serious threats should be non-negotiable, for example.
But we urge districts to pay closer attention to the part of the law that outlines available strategies that effectively improve behavior while keeping the struggling youngest children in their classrooms. Students can’t learn if they aren’t in class.
It’s the reason we have supported the Dallas Independent School District’s “restorative discipline” reforms that ban suspension of the district’s youngest students while giving educators training on building student-teacher relationships to better identify the root cause of behavior problems. And students get help managing and understanding their emotions.
DISD was ahead of state law in recognizing that it had to do something about the large number of black students who were disproportionately kicked out of school. Dallas ISD reported no out-of-school suspensions for pre-K to second grade and fewer than 10 in-school suspensions for such grades, in 2017-2018.
A crucial next step is rooting out biases that lead to harsher treatment of some students across Texas.
We see a lot of promise in another bill — authored by then-Rep. Eric Johnson, now Dallas mayor — and passed in the last session. His bill would require schools to report the race, gender and age of students on out-of-school suspensions, and the reasons they were suspended. It was Johnson who led the charge banning out-of-school suspension while in Austin two years ago.
Johnson has worked for years to “dismantle the schoolto-prison pipeline and to build a school-to-workforce pipeline,” as he has said.
The demographic data could go a long way in helping researchers identify and address the underlying reasons for the suspensions and work on solutions.
We know that some students come to school dealing with all kinds of horrible issues at home such as abuse and other trauma. We realize the big challenge teachers face each day.
But the findings on suspensions highlight the importance of giving Texas teachers the tools to build behavioral success. It’s essential for all their students’ success.