HISD to consider suspension, expulsion ban for youngest students

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

HISD says under the proposal, administrators would not be allowed to suspend or expel pre-kindergarten through second-grade students, except as required by state law. The change -- described as a "policy revision" -- would also stipulate that students in third through fifth grades should only be removed from the school setting as a last resort.

HISD adds the district would provide a teacher mentoring system and annual classroom management and equity training to all campus-based faculty and staff to "focus on creating a positive school climate, preventing crisis and deescalating disciplinary issues."

HISD says 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.

HISD says the proposal is in response to research that purports to show 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.

In a statement released today, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier is quoted as saying, "We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. 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."

HISD adds, "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."

Under the proposal, HISD says 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.

HISD says the policy change would be in line with similar school districts around the country, including in districts in Miami, Los Angeles and Seattle, which are in the process of implementing similar policies. Some districts, HISD notes, are going so far as to expand the plan to include all elementary grades.

According to HISD's release, 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 majority of incidents -- 87 percent -- involved students who were considered to be economically disadvantaged, at-risk, or both.
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