By Matthew Simpson
Parents and community members will have an opportunity to advocate for students at the Texas Legislature later this month. On Oct. 30, 2012, the Senate Criminal Justice Committee will hear testimony on a variety of issues facing students in our public schools. These are the topics the committee will address:
Alternative Education Programs
The committee will look at Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs). Students are placed in DAEPs and JJAEPs when they are removed from the classroom. DAEPs are a part of school districts whereas JJAEPs are run by county juvenile justice boards. Advocates have expressed concerns about the quality of the education provided in DAEPs and JJAEPs. There are also alternative approaches to discipline that allow students to remain in a normal classroom setting that can actually produce better outcomes.
Racial Inequity in School Discipline
Second, the committee will review research that highlights racial inequity in suspension, expulsion, and tickets at school. Organizations like Texas Appleseed and the Council of State Governments Justice Center have found African-American and Latino students are more likely to be ticketed at school, expelled, and suspended. Special education students are also disproportionately represented in statewide studies. These trends raise troubling concerns about the way students are disciplined across Texas.
Zero Tolerance, Alternative Schools, and Student Ticketing
Third, the committee will consider how zero tolerance policies, separate alternative education campuses, and law enforcement in schools have become problematic in Texas. Zero tolerance policies require harsh disciplinary responses like suspension and expulsion when certain rules or laws are broken. The policies are widely considered a failure because they tie the hands of administrators. Even conservative groups like the Texas Public Policy Foundation are voicing concerns about this approach to school discipline. Another critical issue is the overzealous use of ticketing by law enforcement in school. Over 275,000 tickets are issued to students in schools EACH YEAR in Texas. Expulsion, ticketing, and suspension undermine school success and ultimately undermine the chances of any individual student graduating. It is essential that we address our high dropout rates as we move toward an ever more sophisticated workforce and economy. We can start improving student success by making basic reforms to suspension and ticketing policies.
Children in the Foster Care System
Fourth, the committee will look at how foster children fair in school and in the juvenile justice system. The committee will likely look at ways to improve case management and information sharing so that youth receive appropriate services.
Alternative Discipline Models
Finally, the committee will look at “[e]vidence-based models used for addressing juvenile delinquency prevention that are targeted to non-adjudicated, but at-risk youth, in the school disciplinary system.” Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) is one school discipline model that helps keep students in school and out of the juvenile justice system.. PBIS is a good alternative because it allows a school-wide approach to school discipline that focuses on prevention rather than simply relying on punishment. Graduated Sanctions is another alternative model. This approach creates disciplinary consequences of growing seriousness with each infraction. Tickets or suspensions are used as last resort measures.
The good news is that state legislators want to improve how we handle discipline at school and are ready to listen to suggestions. We, as parents, students, and Texas residents, have the opportunity to weigh in at this hearing and in the future as these issues continue to be discussed.
Want to get involved? Here’s how you can take action: