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Texas school districts are suspending young students at alarming and disproportionate rates, according to a new report by Texans Care for Children.
The report identified 64,773 in-school suspensions and 36,475 out-of-school suspensions of pre-K through second-grade students in Texas in 2015-2016. Students who are black, male, or in special education or foster care were disproportionately suspended.
Taking preschoolers out of class denies them valuable learning time and spurs negative thoughts about school and how they fit in.
Suspended students are more likely to have poor grades, continue misbehaving, and drop out of school, which harms lifelong mental and physical health. Latino kids especially risk not getting the social support they need for healthy development and disease prevention, according to a Salud America! research review.
“Early childhood suspensions are a sign that a district, campus, and/or classroom is not implementing positive behavioral strategies and creating supportive school climates,” the report states.
Keeping Kids in Class Report
In the new report, Keeping Kids in Class, you will find:
- Executive Summary
- Why Early Childhood Suspensions Are Troubling
- Why Young Students Are Suspended
- State Policies that May Contribute to Early Childhood Suspensions
- Effective Strategies for Districts and Campuses
- Progress in Four Texas School Districts
- Suspensions and Expulsions in Child Care Settings
Check out recommendations for the Texas Education Agency, Texas Legislature, and school districts on page 32.
The new report addresses why young students are suspended and calls on education and policy leaders to replace ineffective school discipline policies, like suspension, with effective strategies, like social and emotional learning.
Why Are Young Students Suspended?
Young students behave in challenging ways. And well-meaning educators may react ineffectively. But why?
It is developmentally appropriate for young children to test boundaries and even create conflict or aggression as they learn how to regulate their emotions and behaviors. However, when children don’t get basic needs or experience childhood trauma like abuse or witnessing violence, stress hormones disrupt brain development and affect how a child learns, reacts, and behaves. Latino children especially face childhood trauma.
Although often lacking a formal diagnosis as such a young age, mental, behavioral or development disorders can also lead to challenging behaviors.
These children are particularly sensitive to harsh discipline.
“Behaviors stemming from hunger, developmental disorders, trauma, and similar causes can be addressed effectively but cannot be ‘disciplined away,'” the report states.
Classroom settings and schedules can also trigger challenging behaviors. When children sit too long or spend too much time on a particular activity, they may struggle to follow along and may misbehave just to get out of it.
Additionally, some teachers and administrators may react more harshly to challenging behavior due to their level of stress, level of training in positive behavior techniques, and unconscious attitudes or beliefs influenced by race/ethnicity, gender, involvement in foster care, or military connection.
For example, students in foster care were nearly three times more likely to be suspended than the overall pre-k through second grade student population and boys were more than four times more likely to be suspended than girls. Black students were almost five times more likely to receive out-of-school suspension and more than twice as likely to receive in-school suspension as White students.
Good news is that Latino students were less likely than White students to be suspended.
Why Are Schools Suspending Students?
Some school districts rely more on suspension more than other districts.
Killeen ISD, in Killeen, Texas (24.9% Latino), issued 1,460 suspensions to 495 pre-k students in 2015-2016, accounting for 31% the statewide suspensions. Yet, the district only accounted for 1.6% of the total statewide pre-k enrollment.
In this district, non-military-connected pre-k students were suspended twice as often as military-connected students.
“If a school administrator is considering suspending a five-year-old, it is a sign that the student needs help, the teacher needs help, and/or the school environment may need to implement more developmentally appropriate practices,” the report states.
Suspensions and expulsions are also a concern in early childcare settings.
Early childhood suspension hinders the opportunity to identify and address the causes of the challenging behavior, thus fails to support the children who need support the most.
Unfortunately, school districts receive little support or guidance from the state to address student mental health and behavior.
Effective Strategies for Districts and Campuses
Ineffective school discipline policies disrupt prime learning time for young students in Texas and possibly trigger the trauma or stress that students face at home.
Positive strategies addressed in the report include:
- Helping students learn to manage their emotions and navigate conflicts
- School-wide positive behavioral interventions and supports
- Educator access to coaches, early childhood mental health consultants, and behavior specialists
- School counselors
- Training and technical assistance offered by Educational Service Centers
- Assess and systematically address disparities in school discipline
- Federal guidance on early childhood expulsions and suspensions
- Infant and early childhood mental health consultation
- Texas policies to collect data
Learn about progress in El Paso ISD, Dallas ISD, Houston ISD, and Austin ISD on page 26.
It is critical to build a trauma-informed workforce to prevent ineffective school discipline policies from disproportionately burdening some kids.
How is your early care facility or school doing to keep kids in class?
Start or join the conversation about trauma-informed care in your community. Find out who is working towards a trauma-informed approach and ask to join their group or attend a meeting. Look for speakers or presentations for professional development. You can even ask speakers to present to a group at your facility or school.
See how a San Antonio organization created free workshops for childcare providers and often includes sessions on childhood trauma:
This San Antonio school district started a district-wide trauma-informed system after an ex-coach attended a presentation about childhood trauma: