Too many of the youngest students in Texas are being suspended from school, according to a new report from a child advocacy group.
According to Texans Care for Children, 101,248 suspensions were issued by Texas school districts to students from Pre-Kindergarten to second grade during the 2015-2016 academic year.
“Schools are suspending little kids as young as four years old, many of whom are in a classroom for the first time in their lives,” said Stephanie Rubin, CEO of Texans Care for Children, in a statement. “Suspending our youngest students interrupts their education, communicates to them that they don’t belong, and misses a critical opportunity to actually address why they might be acting out.”
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Nearly two-thirds of those suspensions — 64,773 — were in-school suspensions, according to the data gathered by Texans Care.
In 2017 — the year that followed the academic year studied for this report — the Texas Legislature passed a ban on out-of-school suspensions, with some exceptions, for students in Pre-K through second grade. The only incidents that can warrant an out-of-school suspension for a student that young are those that involve weapons, drugs or violence.
Texans Care for Children advocates in its report for school districts to do away with in-school suspensions entirely.
In the Dallas Independent School District a new policy adopted for the current academic year has all but made that priority a reality.
At Charles A. Gill Elementary School, along Ferguson Road, southwest of 635 in east Dallas, there were 135 disciplinary referrals, according to the Dallas Independent School District. A referral means a student has been taken out of the classroom, sent to the principal’s office for discipline issues which could result in a conference between the student and a guardian, an assigned consequence or a one to two day suspension.
To date there have been three disciplinary referrals at Gill Elementary this academic year.
The Texans Care for Children report praises the effort by Dallas ISD, which preceded the Legislature’s adoption of the new out-of-school suspension ban.
The focus in Dallas ISD has been on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) which requires teachers to practice self-management.
“Adults have to take a step back and look at their own behaviors,” said Juany Valdespino-Gaytan, Dallas ISD Executive Director of Student Engagement and Counseling, a new position created to implement the new policy. “Students always watch the adults. More than what we tell them to do they model our behavior.”
Principal Shawki Freelon, who is in his first year overseeing Gill Elementary School, was quick to embrace the new approach in the district.
“I had to explain to some of our teachers that [suspension] is not the option we have anymore,” Freelon said. “We want our kids in school. We cannot teach them if they are being sent home on a regular basis.”
Instead of a scenario where a child creates a discipline problem in a classroom and the teacher responds by sending that student to the principal, teachers now are required to allow for a ‘cooling off period’ for both themselves and for the student.
“Maybe you need a little time to cool down, so you take a moment and then come back into the learning environment,” Principal Freelon said about the process. “Maybe you just need to take some deep breaths so that you feel a little bit calmer.”
Valdespino-Gaytan emphasized that the ‘cooling down’ period must be purposeful and explained in real time to the students so that they understand the process.
“That is the new twist to this; that we are telling students exactly what we are doing and why we are doing this so they can adapt these behaviors to their own behaviors,” Valdespino-Gaytan said.