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Bill To Ban Pre-K To Second-Grade Suspensions Statewide Gets Bipartisan Support At Hearing

Gabriel Cristóver Pérez/KUT News.
Hallway rules on the wall in Ortega Elementary in Austin ISD.

Some urban school districts across Texas, including Austin, have banned out-of-school suspensions of pre-K through second-grade students, but a bill before the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday would ban out-of-school suspensions statewide for pre-K through second-graders. 

Last year, around 26,000 students in Texas between 3 and 7 years old were suspended from school.

The bill received support from conservative and liberal groups that testified before the committee. It would prevent out-of-school suspensions for discretionary reasons for pre-K through second-graders. Students who break federal law by bringing a gun or drugs to school could still be suspended. Democratic Rep. Helen Giddings, who wrote the bill, said suspending students shouldn’t be used as a classroom management tool.

“These policies create mistrust between children and schools, and they force students to miss precious class time," said the DeSoto representative. "And often they leave parents having to miss time at work that sometimes they cannot afford.”

Instead, the bill would require schools to develop behavior-management techniques that focus on positive behavior and train teachers in early detection and prevention programs, identifying and solving behavior issues before they become a problem. The bill had bipartisan support.

“Implementing programs such as restorative justice programs highlight principles such as personal responsibility and familial involvement rather than just exclusionary punishment," said Haley Holik with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Morgan Craven with the nonprofit group Texas Appleseed said young students shouldn’t be punished when they’re struggling to learn behavioral skills.

“An excellent teacher in Austin pointed out to me that, just as young students are learning math and reading skills, they’re also learning appropriate classroom and social behaviors, and just as we would never suspend a child who struggles with math or reading and who may need extra attention in those areas, we cannot suspend a child who struggles with mastering our behavioral expectations," Craven said. "It’s simply not fair.”

The bill is the latest step to end policies that can shift students into the criminal justice system, something called the school-to-prison pipeline. In recent years, the state has prohibited students in sixth grade and younger from being given Class C misdemeanor tickets for nonviolent behavior. The state no longer assigns students younger than 6 to alternative education schools, and parents can opt their child out of corporal punishment.

Data show these policies disproportionately affect students of color and special education students.  While black students make up 13 percent of the elementary population in Texas, they accounted for 47 percent of out-of-school suspensions last year.

Lawmakers did not vote the bill out of committee Tuesday.

Correction: This story initially stated the proposed suspension ban would affect pre-K to fourth-grade students. While the original bill before the committee extended that ban to fourth-graders, a committee substitute bill discussed at the meeting limited the ban of suspensions for students from pre-K to second grade. 

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