In Texas, the three districts with the highest suspension rates are Fort Worth, Dallas, and Arlington. Fort Worth suspended pre-K through fifth graders eight times as often as Austin did even though the districts are approximately the same size. Eva-Marie Ayala, writing for The Dallas Morning News, reports that Fort Worth’s out-of-school suspensions numbered 5,417, which is even higher than Dallas’ 5,263. Texas Appleseed reports that only Waco and Aldine had worse suspension rates than these two districts.
Advocates call this over-the-top discipline part of the school-to-prison pipeline. When students experience suspensions they often also have brushes with the juvenile justice system and drop out of school, according to Morgan Craven of Texas Appleseed.
“These high numbers might be surprising and shocking for a lot of people,” said Craven, who oversees the group’s efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline. “We don’t disagree that when a discipline issue arises it shouldn’t be addressed. It should be done in a way that helps both the school and the child. But school exclusions simply don’t do that. In fact they have been proven to be harmful to children in the long run.”
African-American students across the state were twice as likely to face out-of-school suspensions as white students in the 2013 – 2014 school year, says Craven. Representing only 13% of the elementary school population, 42% of black children were disciplined by being suspended.
The results of punishing young children in this manner include poor academic performance, mistrust of school administrators, and receiving a label of being “bad kids.” Over time, these children begin to think of themselves as bad.
The Texas Appleseed group found reports of students with disabilities being suspended several times a week because of outbursts in the classroom, including children as young as 4 years old. In the 2013-2014 school year, 2,513 prekindergarten children were suspended in Texas.
Texas Appleseed’s report, Suspended Childhood: An Analysis of Exclusionary Discipline of Texas’ Pre-K and Elementary School Students, found that when students are removed from classrooms, their developing self-images and their new relationships with teachers and fellow-students can be damaged, according to KCEN-TV. The negative labeling can lead to poor social-emotional development, diminished teacher expectations for success, and cruel treatment from peers.
Texas Appleseed is calling for every district in the state to adopt formal policies that limit suspensions for elementary children. The group wants these procedures incorporated into the Student Code of Conduct, and they also want school leaders to clarify to teachers and staff that removals should be minimized, with faculty trained in alternative approaches such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Restorative Justice.
The Appleseed group also wants legislators to support bills during the 2017 session that put limits on suspensions and placements in Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP) for the state’s youngest children.
The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton writes that boys account for 51% of the total student population statewide, but constitute 84% of all out-of-school suspensions from pre-K to fifth grade.
Some schools are moving toward policies that end suspensions and expulsions for children in second-grade and younger, while others are aiming to stop suspensions and expulsions in all elementary grades.