Report hopes to mend broken school discipline system

AUSTIN (KXAN) — If you found out your child was suspended, or even expelled from school, you’d probably expect it came from a major rule violation. However, a new study reveals students are getting into trouble for relatively small offenses.

The Council of State Government (CSG) Justice Center study comes a day after lawmakers at the state Capitol met to look at the impacts of a bill they tried to implement last year. It was supposed to decrease the amount of tickets given out to student.

The CSG Justice Center’s School Discipline Consensus Report found that since 2011, 60 percent of high school students in Texas were suspended or expelled at least once. Advocates say that is a result of zero tolerance policies.

Lakashia Wallace, a parent from Dallas, was invited to Austin on Wednesday as the CSG Justice Center met with education leaders, lawmakers and police to discuss how to handle the problems.

For years, Wallace has been looking for the glue to mend the broken system. “For 10 years I fought the district on policies and procedures, to no avail. I was just one voice.”

Her son, Joseph Wallace, is a special needs student. He has been expelled numerous times and displaced from several classes.

Cracks in the school discipline systems leave parents like Wallace feeling helpless.

“It’s a hard fight for parents who know that their children are having problems,” she said. “But it’s even harder to get help for them in the school districts now.”

Texas lawmakers approved some changes last year, because some punishments didn’t fit the crime.

“If they violate the law, of course prosecute them for penal code violations, but not for throwing erasers, cursing, being out of your seat,” said Texas Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston. “Those should not lead to a criminal justice issue and for certain, in my judgment, it shouldn’t lead to a suspension or expulsion.”

Advocates say when that happens, nobody wins.

“Sending the student home from school environment to the neighborhood often times with no supervision, they come back behind in their studies, they’re profiled, sometimes they actually have a case number,” said Whitmire. “And we’ve seen those suspensions will lead to the juvenile justice system.”

From the report came recommendations for schools.

“We’re suggesting that in every place people bring together all the key decision makers and they take a look at this report and they figure out what recommendations make sense for them,” said Michael Thompson, director of CSG Justice Center.

Now, Wallace finally feels like someone is listening. “To know, realize that lawmakers, people who can make a difference, are hearing our voices, it was overwhelming. No longer do I feel alone. Like a burden was lifted off my shoulders.”

Officials say the report provides a roadmap for change in school discipline policies.

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