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Texas schools suspended tens of thousands of students in second grade or younger, report says

The report warned educators and policy leaders of the risks that in-school suspensions continue to have on pre-K to second-grade students in Texas public schools.

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Texas schools issued more than 64,000 in-school suspensions to students in the second grade or younger during the 2015-16 school year, and a disproportionate number of those students were black, male, in foster care or in special education, according to a report released Monday by a children's advocacy group.

The report by Texans Care for Children also said that more than 36,000 students received out-of-school suspensions during that time. The following year, lawmakers passed a bill that banned out-of-school suspensions for students up to the second grade. 

In-school suspensions are still allowed under the new law, and advocates said Monday that more needs to be done to address the issue. 

“Schools are suspending little kids as young as four years old, many of whom are in a classroom for the first time in their lives,” Texans Care for Children CEO Stephanie Rubin said in a statement. “Suspending our youngest students interrupts their education, communicates to them that they don’t belong, and misses a critical opportunity to actually address why they might be acting out.”

The report said black students from pre-K to the second grade were five times more likely than their white counterparts to receive an out-of-school suspension, and twice as likely to receive in-school suspension.

Special education students also received disproportionate numbers of suspensions: They were twice as likely as the overall population to receive either out-of-school or in-school suspensions.

Smaller districts tended to be the most frequent suspenders. Jasper ISD in East Texas had just 122 students in pre-K, but issued 71 in-school suspensions to 23 students in the 2015-2016 school year.

Jasper ISD officials could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

The report proposed several recommendations to education and policy leaders, like using classroom strategies and models to assist both teachers and students with emotional or behavioral support. School districts like Houston ISD have used such practices in addition to already banning suspensions of pre-K through second-grade students in 2016, the report said.

“The Legislature took a huge step forward last year, but there’s more work to do for school boards, superintendents, and state leaders,” Rubin said in a statement.

The report was released the same day that lawmakers on the Senate Education Committee discussed school discipline and ways to minimize the damage of suspensions at a hearing in the Capitol. 

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, suggested providing in-school suspended students with a live video feed of what’s happening in their classrooms so those students don’t fall behind because of their suspensions. A representative from the liberal group Texas Appleseed said many students facing in-school suspension are put with proctors or teachers who may not teach that student's grade. 

The subject of school discipline was included the Education Committee's interim charges, meaning members have been asked to study the issue and recommend possible changes that can be considered when the full Legislature meets again in 2019.

Disclosure: Texas Appleseed has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.    

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