Houston School Board Refuses To Ban Suspensions

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Despite the fact that school boards across the country have banned school suspensions, Texas has yet to join the growing trend. Five Houston ISD school board members voted to keep school suspensions as a last resort for teachers who are “deal(ing) with kids who they can’t contain” in pre-kindergarten through second grade classrooms. The rejected plan also included provisions for a team of specialists and $2 million in classroom management training for HISD teachers.

In lieu of the ban, HISD decided to retain school suspensions of second grade and under students as a “last resort.” Of 2,673 reported disciplinary incidents during the 2014-2015 school year, 87 percent involved youth considered to be economically disadvantaged or at risk, and 84 percent were male. 70 percent of the youth disciplined with suspension were African-American even though black youths comprise only 25 percent of the HISD student body.

The school board’s initial proposal was laudable. It proposed the suspension ban as a positive approach to deescalating conflict in classrooms. It called for more accountability and more disciplinary data in an effort to develop school-specific annual plans to reduce misbehavior and rectify inequities. Encouragingly, HISD Superintendent Terry Grier called for a more empathetic approach to discipline, 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.” Furthermore, schools with lower suspension rates have been found to have higher achievement rates and narrowed achievement gaps, while schools with higher suspension rates see the opposite effect.

The school board’s decision was not without dissent. Other board members and teachers voiced opposition to suspension. HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones called suspension an “ineffective” deterrent. Voicing concern for students at-risk for the school-to-prison pipeline, she said, “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.”

A similar article appeared earlier this week on Houston Public Media.

Playing Doctor, 10-Year-Old Girl Charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault

As reported by New York Daily News, a 10-year-old Houston girl faces charges of aggravated sexual assault after playing doctor with a young boy in her apartment complex.

The girl — identified as “Ashley” — was playing with other children in her apartment complex’s courtyard in April when a witness reported that she inappropriately touched a 4-year-old boy “in his private area,” according to Fox affiliate KRIV.

The family contends Ashley, who was 9 at the time of the incident, is innocent.

It wasn’t until two months later in June when the Houston Police Department began investigating the case.

The then 9-year-old spent four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center, after the sex crimes unit denied Ashley’s mother the opportunity to attend the 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities.

The charging and detention of ten-year-old Ashley presents a number of procedural questions that have plagued the juvenile justice system since its creation. Title 3 of the Texas Family Code, the Juvenile Justice Code, provides that children, under the age of 10, cannot be charged with or punished for criminal acts. Nine years old when the incident occurred, Ashley falls outside the jurisdiction of the juvenile court, which calls for the accused to be ten-years-old at the time of the alleged offense.

Along with questions of jurisdiction, Ashley was detained for four nights in the Harris County Juvenile Detention Center. The juvenile court typically reserves detention as a last resort for particularly problematic or violent offenders. Ashley, playing doctor, allegedly touched another child inappropriately. But the Houston Police Department (“HPD”) waited two months before investigating charges against Ashley, indicating that HPD didn’t view Ashley as a dangerous or imminent threat to society.

Finally, HPD did not allow Ashley’s mother to accompany her during a 45-minute interview between the girl and authorities. While the Texas Family Code provides that the child must explicitly request counsel, it does not account for the presence of a parent. Ashley, a ten-year-old, couldn’t be expected to request or even ascertain the need for counsel.

The issues of jurisdiction and detention make this case ripe for investigation. Hopefully, this young girl will get the justice she deserves, while also being appropriately punished for the alleged offense.

A Practical Program for Children’s Health Rights

Image property of health.howstuffworks.com

Over the last few weeks I have been very aware of an increasing amount of news articles related to children’s health rights.  I have seen discussions around immunization, court rulings on parent’s ability to opt their children out of treatment, laws passed on medical marijuana availability to children, and if you type in Obamacare and children you will receive around 105 million results. This is not a new issue, but it seems to be trending in a unique way at the moment.

Each of these items is directed to some level at policy.  What rights are protected?  How do we treat children medically compared to adults?  Who should be covered?  These are all valid questions, but primarily coming from a theoretical space, with a few inroads being made into practical application.  Some area schools, however, are doing something very practical that could have more real world effect on the rights of children than many of these overarching policies filtering down through the legal and political systems.

Image property of health.howstuffworks.com

Image property of health.howstuffworks.com

This year the KIPP Public Schools in Houston, Texas will institute a program called KIPP Care that will locate health care clinics for students on the school campuses.  Nurse practitioners and overseeing pediatricians will be located on campus with the ability to give immunizations, prescribe medicines, conduct physicals and give treatment for a variety of minor and long-term conditions.  The program works with Medicaid, public and private insurance, or offers an inexpensive fee-based option for usage.  The hope is that this program could expand to the broader community in the future.

This is an example of a program that could affect the health rights of children on a very practical day-to-day basis.  Access is one of the major factors in why a family may not go to see a doctor.  This is likely also part of the reason why clinics are becoming more popular for families that a traditional doctors office setting, but even here there are issues.

I recently enrolled my 4-year old in a new school after a move.  As part of that process I needed to get a well child check up and immunizations with all the appropriate documentation.  20 phone calls to medical offices, 4 visits to clinics and 2 discussions with the school later I was finally able to get at least the well child checkup done in order for my child to start school the next week.  It took an additional two weeks to get the immunizations.  Many wasted hours and accumulated stress went into this process.  I am lucky that I have the flexibility both temporally and financially to accommodate the process, but that is not necessarily the case for many families out there.  What would their options be?  Not have their child in school?  Forge a signature? Ignore it and hope the schools record keeping doesn’t pick it up?  An on campus clinic can provide access and convenience in a way that creates a positive situation for the families and children involved rather than a stressor.

Another benefit from this program is a child’s exposure to the medical staff.  Rather than seeing a stranger once every few years for painful shots and uncomfortable check ups, students are able to build a relationship with people they see on and around campus daily.  A practitioner can form a trust in which well-being is the object, which may hopefully grow with the child, promoting a positive relationship with the medical system.

As anyone involved in education can tell you, it doesn’t take much to pull a child away from education.  Distraction, sleepiness, hunger and maybe especially sickness can stop the learning process in its tracks.   We already limit distraction nd feed our students and now, being able to holistically aid a student on campus can be a great help.  If a child is sick, they aren’t sent home to a parent in hopes that they’ll get the treatment they need; they are treated.  Students aren’t removed from class after class and forced to play catch up upon their return; they instead may miss minutes.

This is a child-first practical, hands-on program that can positively effect the health education and–to an extent–family of its students.  In contrast with policies that try to filter down to make a change, with success it may be able to filter up to change policy.