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Education News

Why The Houston School Board Refused To Ban Suspensions

Several trustees worried what would happen to teachers and principals if they couldn’t suspend certain students.



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School districts around the country from Miami to Seattle have banned suspensions for young children.

The Houston Independent School District would have been the first district in Texas to follow that national trend. But last week, five HISD board members voted to keep it as a last resort.

One major reason was the impact on educators. Several trustees worried what would happen to teachers and principals if they couldn't suspend certain students.

“I just want to make sure teachers in the classroom have tools to deal with kids who they can't contain,” said Trustee Anna Eastman.

The proposed ban included a team of specialists and also $2 million to train teachers in classroom management, but that wasn't enough support for board members like Paula Harris.

“And this is what I'm hearing from my principals, I have one child in a classroom, and maybe back in the days that James H Law (Elementary) with Ms. Frances, a good paddle would have got him to settle down, but we don't do that anymore, but now I can't even send you home,” Harris said.

Ultimately, the Houston school board followed Trustee Harvin Moore's suggestion: that suspension is a tool worth keeping in elementary school. He amended the measure to remove the ban and call for suspensions to be a last resort.

Moore explained: “Probably too much use of suspension, possibly far too much, definitely discriminatory in some places, but I don't want to take that tool away.”

Last year, Houston educators issued more than 2,600 discipline incidents for students in pre-K through second grade. The vast majority of those – 70 percent – removed black boys from classrooms.

“This is an ineffective solution. Suspensions are ineffective,” said HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones in an impassioned speech.

She gave a host of reasons why it’s ineffective, including that students who are suspended a lot are more likely to drop out and end up in prison.

“They go home. There's nothing at home for them. They come back and it's even worse. I cannot vote for continuing to perpetuate the pipeline to prison, not just for African-American children, but for any child,” Skillern-Jones said.

The HISD board must consider the measure on a second reading before it takes effect.

Many advocates like Berlinda Mojica, who's a teacher and member of the grassroots group ONE Houston, were disappointed the board refused an outright ban and called it a “last resort.”

“We already knew that. Principals aren't following through with that. Chewing gum too many times might get you suspended. That's not the message we want to send our students. And as a teacher we're here to teach our students,” Mojica said.


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