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.

Saturday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Study: Youth Offenses, Sentences, Predict Little about Recidivism, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange (JJIE)

Data emerging from a seven years’ study of young offenders suggest that the nature of a serious juvenile crime or the length of time served for it, does not do a very good job predicting if a youth will re-offend.

Romney’s Educational Vouchers a Disaster for Special Education Students, Special Education Law Blog

As a primary part of his education platform, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is proposing a pro-choice, pro-voucher system that will allow parents to choose which schools their children can attend.  Romney is arguing that market forces and competition will force improvements in public schools.  Additionally, Romney is proposing to allow federal Title I and IDEA funds (which will also likely be cut) to become “portable” for low income and special needs students.  These funds would follow the students to any district or public charter school, private school where permitted by state law, or toward tutoring or online courses. In theory, these proposals sound wonderful.  Who wouldn’t want their children, both regular and special education, to go to the best possible schools?  These proposals, however, could be disastrous for special education students.

Child deaths fall to a new low, Foreign Policy Association

According to the United Nations for the first time the number of annual child deaths have fallen below seven million.  “The new child mortality estimates show that concerted efforts to get proven lifesaving care to children work and that, in the 21stcentury, children no longer need to die from preventable causes,” said Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children. “But the new report also shows that the low-cost solutions that could save these lives still aren’t reaching many mothers, newborn babies and children – especially those who need them most.  Every American has the power to help change that.

Backers say bills signed by Brown will reduce school suspensions, Los Angeles Times

The four discipline-related bills signed by Brown are:

•AB 1729 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), requiring that administrators in most cases use suspensions only after alternative disciplinary practices fail to correct student misbehavior. The new law expands those alternatives to include community service, restorative justice programs and positive behavior incentives.

•SB 1088 by Sen. Curren D. Price Jr. (D-Los Angeles), prohibiting public schools from refusing to enroll or readmit students solely because they had contact with the juvenile justice system. Faer said some students have been kept out of school for months because they are unable to find one that will take them, even though they have never been formally expelled.

•AB 2537 by Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez (D-Coachella), giving more discretion to school principals to use alternatives to expulsion in disciplining students. The new law also clarifies that students will not face mandatory expulsion if they bring to school personal medications or imitation firearms such as toy guns.

•AB 2616 by Assemblywoman Wilmer Amina Carter (D-Rialto), changing state truancy rules. It would give administrators discretion to not refer a student to juvenile courts for a fourth offense and lowers truancy fines, among other things.

Some juvenile killers would get parole if Jerry Brown signs bill, Los Angeles Times

Monday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Here’s a look at today’s top stories affecting children’s rights, juvenile justice, and education:

Expelling Zero Tolerance: Reforming Texas School Discipline for Good, Texas Public Policy Foundation

Grits for Breakfast reports on the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s new report that shows Texas zero tolerance policies needlessly cost taxpayers money while having little effect on student behavior.

Kentucky justices to review law regarding grandparents’ visitation rights, Kentucky Courier-Journal

Twenty years after a ruling that gave grandparents the right to visit their grandchildren over the parents’ objection, the Kentucky Supreme Court is preparing to give the controversial issue another look.

In 1992, the court upheld a state law that allows grandparent visitation if it is in the child’s best interests, ruling that if “a grandparent is physically, mentally and morally fit, then a grandchild will ordinarily benefit from contact with the grandparent.”

But in a case from Louisville that will be argued Friday, the court will revisit the issue for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the wishes of objecting parents must be given “special weight” and that fit parents must be “presumed to be acting in their child’s best interests.”

Young and Alone, Facing Court and Deportation, New York Times

Juan David Gonzalez was 6 years old. He was in the court, which would decide whether to expel him from the country, without a parent — and also without a lawyer.

Immigration courts in this South Texas border town and across the country are confronting an unexpected surge of children, some of them barely school age, who traveled here without parents and were caught as they tried to cross illegally into the United States.

The young people, mostly from Mexico and Central America, ride to the border on the roofs of freight trains or the backs of buses. They cross the Rio Grande on inner tubes, or hike for days through extremes of heat and chill in Arizona deserts. The smallest children, like Juan, are most often brought by smugglers.

Juvenile justice: Is there a better way? (Opinion piece), Des Moines Register