For several months, the Houston school board has grappled with how it disciplines its youngest students. Now the board is poised to make a major change, since it reversed its vote at its recent meeting and moved closer to a ban.
A lot has changed since the trustees first considered ending suspensions for students in kindergarten through second grade last fall.
To start, there are two new board members.
“I’m going to vote for it because it’s discriminatory, whether it was intended to be discriminatory or not, it’s been discriminatory,” said Jolanda Jones, the new trustee for District IV, expressing support for the ban.
Data from the Houston Independent School District show that last school year, black students were involved in 70 percent of discipline incidents in early grades, even though they make up 25 percent of the student population.
The president of the Houston teachers union also came out in favor of the ban. And more state lawmakers showed up at the board and pressed for discipline reform.
The result? The board reversed its vote and supported the ban at its meeting in January.
“The saying goes it takes a village to raise a child and I think that really played out in a beautiful way here,” said Morgan Craven, director of the school-to-prison pipeline project at the nonprofit Texas Appleseed. The nonprofit, which studied the extent of suspending young children across Texas, advocated for the discipline change.
Craven said that the community support offers a lesson to other districts.
“And then in terms of the policy itself, what can be learned is that this is possible. We don’t have to use these harmful punishments against young children and there are alternatives,” Craven said.
Research shows that young students who are suspended are more likely to drop out later and get involved with the criminal justice system.
“We don’t kick our kids out of our house when they are unruly. We give them consequences; we teach them the right behaviors. Those are the formative years and to exile them in the formative years sends the wrong message to those children,” said Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who brought the ban back for more consideration in one of her last acts as school board president.
If the school board approves the change with a final vote in February, the Houston Independent School District will become the first district in Texas to ban suspensions for young children.