State policies on student discipline debated in Senate hearing

Student discipline was the third major topic on the agenda for the March 26 hearing of the state Senate Education Committee. (The first two, teacher compensation and special education, were covered in the Hotlines for March 26​ and 27​​.) Testimony from a number of groups and individuals stressed the importance of keeping students in an appropriate educational setting instead of simply putting them out of school for misbehaving. Another point emphasized by witnesses and senators alike was the need to ensure that teachers receive support from their administrators when they carry out their duties under the local student code of conduct and the provisions of state law governing student discipline.

Texas AFT’s testimony put both of these concerns in historical perspective and pointed to action legislators should take to keep moving forward on both fronts:

State law (the Safe Schools Act, found in Texas Education Code Chapter 37, Subchapter A) since 1995 has empowered teachers to remove seriously disruptive students from their classrooms. If the teacher determines that a student’s disruptive behavior seriously interferes with the educational process, the teacher can remove the student and refuse to take that student back. (The teacher can only be overruled by a placement-review committee made up of two other teachers elected by the campus faculty and one person chosen by the campus principal. There is an exception for students with disabilities.) Under this law, teachers have seen improvements in classroom behavior. This discretionary removal authority granted to teachers is separate and distinct from the state law mandating placement for the most serious offenses in a disciplinary alternative education program in the school system or in the juvenile-justice system.

Safe Schools Act Brochure
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The other great step forward in 1995 regarding student discipline was the determination that student discipline should not mean expulsion to the streets but rather appropriate educational placement accompanied with intensive deployment of resources to help affected students get back on track. In 2017 the legislature continued in that direction by disallowing out-of-school suspension for students below third grade and stressing the use of restorative practices and positive behavioral supports.

Texas AFT supports both of these key elements of state law on student discipline. We urge you to maintain teachers’ full authority under the Safe Schools Act to remove students they determine to be seriously disruptive. We ask you also to support the investment of additional resources needed to make restorative practices and positive behavioral supports effective for students as an alternative to out-of-school suspension or expulsion.

Two other important points have emerged from surveys of our members regarding their experience with student discipline under the Safe Schools Act. Many of them report a lack of support from administrators for consistent implementation of student conduct standards. And they report difficulties in getting the law enforced, in many cases apparently because administrators lack knowledge of the law. We urge the Legislature to consider steps to ensure consistent enforcement of student codes of conduct and compliance with the Safe Schools Act.