Our union has a long history of advocating for safe learning environments for all students and staff.
More than 25 years ago, Texas AFT launched its campaign to give educators key tools to respond to students who are violent, abusive or chronically disruptive in the classroom. This guide will give you critical information on the Safe Schools Act.
- Basic Legal Information
- Safe Schools Act Overview
- Understanding Discretionary Removal
- Unintended Consequences of Removal
- Mandatory Removal to Disciplinary Alternative Education Program
- Expulsion to Juvenile-Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP)
- The Removal Process
- What is the Placement Review Committee?
- Due Process
- Bus Driver Removal Authority
- Special Cases
- Access to Information Regarding Student Misconduct
- Resources and Training
More than 25 years ago, Texas AFT launched its campaign to give educators key tools to respond to students who are violent, abusive or chronically disruptive in the classroom.
The Texas Legislature first enacted the Safe Schools Act into the Texas Education Code in 1995. Since that time, many developments in science and education have provided a more thoughtful approach to addressing student behavior.
The Safe Schools Act gives teachers significant authority to remove a student who is exhibiting excessive disruptive behavior during class and outlines instances when removal is mandated under state law. In 2013, bus drivers were given the authority to remove disruptive students from their vehicles, ensuring all students — including those who engage in misconduct — can receive educational services in a safe, orderly setting that meets their needs. In 2019, the Legislature added “conduct containing the elements of harassment against a school employee” to the list of behaviors for which a student must be removed to an alternative education program.
This guide will help you navigate the key provisions of the law and help you determine which part of the statute is applicable to your situation. It also will explore important considerations when exercising the option for discretionary removal, as well as issues around disciplinary actions related to Chapter 37.
Basic Legal Information
How does state law shape local districts’ discipline policies?
Texas law requires your local school district to adopt a student code of conduct that complies with state standards for:
- disciplinary removal of a student from a classroom
- transfer of a student to a disciplinary alternative education program
- suspension or expulsion
In case of any conflict between the state law and the local code of conduct, the state law prevails. For example, the local code of conduct cannot reduce the authority granted to teachers by state law to remove disruptive students.
Safe Schools Act Overview
The law does more than just affirm your authority to send a student to the office for appropriate discretionary discipline. It gives teachers the power to initiate the formal removal of a student from the classroom, prompting important legal consequences and requirements.
Remember: The Safe Schools Act is not self-enforcing. You need to take steps to use it and ensure administrators follow it. Documentation is the key to using this law successfully.
Also keep in mind that you are responsible for safeguarding confidential information about students’ disciplinary issues, and you put your certificate at risk if you do not maintain confidentiality.
The law has three uses:
The state allows a teacher to remove a student from her classroom for repeatedly or seriously interfering with instruction.
Mandatory Removal and Placement in a Disciplinary Alternative Educational Program
The state mandates removal of a student and placement in a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) for more serious misconduct like assault resulting in bodily injury.
Mandatory Removal and ExpulsionThe state mandates removal, expulsion and referral to the juvenile justice system for the gravest offenses, including aggravated assault and bringing a gun to school.
Understanding Discretionary Removal
The law currently allows a teacher to remove a student:
- “who has been documented by the teacher to repeatedly interfere with the teacher’s ability to communicate effectively with the students in the class or with the ability of the student’s classmates to learn;” or
- “whose behavior the teacher determines is so unruly, disruptive, or abusive that it seriously interferes with the teacher’s ability to communicate effectively with the students in the class or with the ability of the student’s classmates to learn.”
Discretionary removal is generally characterized as a last-resort disciplinary measure when all other supports and interventions have failed to alter a student’s behavior enough for a teacher to be able to manage the student in the classroom.
That said, the language outlining student behavior to which the law pertains is vague. This, along with vast discrepancies in school district codes of conduct and different supports and interventions available at campuses, means discretionary removal frequently has been overused or misused as a mechanism for dealing with “difficult” students.
According to research on school discipline by Texas Appleseed in 2017-2018, 87% of disciplinary actions that resulted in punishment were for discretionary violations — those that violate the school district’s local code of conduct, not state law. The next highest were for fights between students (6%). Drugs accounted for 3%, while smoking and assault both accounted for about 1% of students who were removed. In most discipline infractions then, districts and teachers have a say in how they are resolved. Studies analyzing the rates at which schools proceed with in-school or out-of-school suspensions, removal to a DAEP, or expulsion vary greatly — even when comparing districts of comparable size, demographics and resources. The differences frequently come down to school/district culture and leadership.
Unintended Consequences of Removal
In the last decade, there has been more research and greater understanding of implicit bias that has had unintended consequences on how discretionary removal is applied in our schools.
Numbers from across the state consistently show racial disparities. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), administrators suspended 20.7% of the state’s 685,775 Black students in the 2018-19 school year, 7.7% of its 2.9 million Latino students and just 4.1% of its 1.5 million white students. A 2011 study of statewide suspensions by the Justice Center and Public Policy Research Institute (PPRI) found Black male students were 31% more likely to receive a discretionary action for a discipline violation than a Latino or white student for the same infraction.
Our special education students in the state also are disproportionately disciplined for discretionary violations. Special education students make up about 10% of the total student population in the state; of those students, 20% likely will be suspended, and 17% will be sent to a DAEP, based on statewide trends.
Now, we also know that the use of discretionary removal has contributed to the school-to-prison “pipeline.”
Research shows that students who are removed repeatedly from class for discipline violations are at greater risk of being held back or dropping out; the 2011 Justice Center and PRRI study shows 10% of students who were suspended between 7th and 12th grade dropped out. Students who are expelled for discretionary violations are three times more likely to encounter the Juvenile Justice System the following year.
Implicit bias plays a large role in the discrepancy we see regarding discipline within our student populations. So does campus culture, access to resources, training and support structure. Teachers report using Chapter 37 when they feel they have no other available options or when there is a lack of administrative support and access to alternative resources on their campus.
A student acting out repeatedly in class or exhibiting a sudden change in behavior is often an indication of other factors affecting the student either in or out of school. Research has shown these changes are frequently warning signs that a student has experienced or currently is experiencing trauma and may need additional support. Traditional punitive or exclusionary discipline practices are rarely effective at achieving long-term, positive changes in behavior for students trying to cope with toxic stress and trauma. Instead, the focus should be on relationships and stability, along with a supportive structure that allows for both accountability and compassion.
More than 45% of American children and two-thirds of adults have been exposed to at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), including:
- physical or emotional neglect or abuse
- living with someone with a drug, alcohol or serious mental health problem
- the death of a parent
- being exposed to violence or discrimination in the home or community.
One in five children have an ACE have experienced two or more. Understanding how trauma affects student behavior and having appropriate resources to intervene are crucial to managing classroom behavior for all students.
Chapter 37 of the Education Code that houses the Safe Schools Act already has a provision that requires schools to consider mitigating circumstances when determining if a student’s removal is appropriate for a discretionary violation. But the Safe Schools Act doesn’t require explicitly that mental health or trauma be considered as part of the criteria. We must advocate for this inclusion as part of any decision-making process regarding discipline.
Educators must understand not only their rights under the law but the power their actions and influence have on student discipline policy, both locally and statewide. Educators are experts on classroom management and the behavior of children, and they must lead the way in improving how we discipline our students. Educators also know well that a more diverse teacher pool allows for greater understanding of different students’ experiences in the classroom.
Districts that have been successful at reducing their rate of suspensions and expulsions have done so by moving away from exclusionary practices; these districts have developed age-appropriate alternative systems and supports for dealing with discretionary violations that help keep students in classrooms and engaged with staff and peers. These methods often include trauma-informed practices, restorative practices and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, as well as increased presence of counselors and social workers on campus.
As a union, we can advocate for ourselves and for our students to have access to the best practices and supports available to maintain safe, healthy and productive environments for teaching and learning. As a teacher or bus driver considering the need to remove a student using Chapter 37, please reach out to your local union for support. They can help you determine if your district’s current discipline procedures and code of conduct provide alternatives that meet the needs of you and your students. If that’s not the case, we can help you advocate for improvements in the system. While discretionary removal may provide a short-term solution to the problem a teacher is experiencing in his/her classroom, it often has a long-term negative impact on the student. Safe Schools must be safe and inclusive for everyone.
Mandatory Removal to Disciplinary Alternative Education Program
The law requires that a teacher “shall remove from class and send to the principal for placement in a disciplinary alternative education program or for expulsion, as appropriate,” a student who engages in various types of serious misconduct.
Placement in a DAEP is required for any student who commits:
- any of the following acts committed on or within 300 feet of school property or at a school-related event
- any conduct punishable as a felony
- assault causing bodily injury
- use, possession, sale or delivery of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs
- abuse of a volatile chemical as defined by the Health and Safety Code
- public lewdness or indecent exposure
- off-campus violent felony conduct (or aggravated robbery), as found by a court or jury, or as determined by the superintendent based on “reasonable belief” that the student has engaged in felony conduct
- retaliation against any school employee, regardless of where the conduct occurs
- “false report” (for example, a bomb threat) or “terroristic threat”• expellable misconduct by a student under age 10
Expulsion to Juvenile-Justice Alternative Education Program (JJAEP)
The Safe Schools Act mandates expulsion and referral to the juvenile-justice system for certain actions committed on school property or at a school event. These actions are:
- unlawfully carrying weapons and actions involving prohibited weapons
- aggravated assault, sexual assault, arson, murder, attempted murder, indecency with a child, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, continuous sexual abuse of a young child
- felony offenses involving alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs
In addition, expulsion is mandatory regardless of where the misconduct occurred if any of the foregoing types of offenses is committed in retaliation against a school employee.
The Safe Schools Act also allows school districts to expel a student for:
- documented serious misbehavior while on a DAEP campus, despite documented behavioral interventions
- Serious misbehavior means deliberate violent behavior posing a direct threat to others’ health or safety; extortion; coercion; public lewdness; indecent exposure; criminal mischief; harassment; or personal hazing.
- felony criminal mischief
- misdemeanor drug and alcohol offenses at school
- assault on a school employee or volunteer causing bodily injury
- false report (for example, a bomb threat) or terroristic threat
- deadly conduct
- conduct occurring within 300 feet of school property that would trigger automatic expulsion if it occurred on campus or that involved possession of a firearm
- aggravated assault, sexual assault, murder, attempted murder of another student wherever it occurs
- breach of computer security
- conduct occurring on school property or at a school-related event in another school district that would trigger expulsion if it occurred in the student’s district.
The Removal Process
How do I initiate discretionary removal from my classroom?
- Gather all documentation detailing incidents that show repeated interference or behavior so unruly, disruptive or abusive that you have determined it seriously interferes with teaching and learning (keep a detailed and organized log).
- Draft a letter to your administration stating you are using your authority under Education Code Section 37.002 to remove a student from your class immediately. We suggest you use the sample letter and sample reporting form for discretionary removal found at www.texasaft.org/safeschools.
- Consult your local union representative to make sure you are meeting all requirements of the law.
- Deliver to your campus behavior coordinator the written statement that you are using your discretionary removal authority, along with a copy of your documentation.
- If the campus behavior coordinator does not comply by removing the student immediately, contact your union representative for assistance in securing compliance with the law.
What happens when you initiate a student’s formal removal under the discretionary provision?
The student must be removed immediately from the teacher’s class. The campus behavior coordinator has the following options for deciding where that student will be placed:
- another regular classroom
- in-school suspension
- three-day suspension from school
How do I initiate mandatory removal from my classroom?
Follow the same steps as for discretionary removal but use the separate sample letter for initiating a mandatory removal.
What happens when a student is removed under the mandatory DAEP placement provision?
Each school district must place such students in a DAEP outside the regular classroom and separate from students in the regular program. The alternative program may be on or off of a regular campus.
What happens when a student is removed under the mandatory expulsion provision?
The student must be placed in a JJAEP or equivalent setting. If the student is 10 years old or younger, they must be placed in a DAEP.
When can a student return to the teacher’s class?
Discretionary Removal: The student cannot be returned to the teacher’s class without the teacher’s consent — unless the teacher is overruled by a placement review committee that determines such placement is the best or only alternative available.
Mandatory Removal/DAEP: The law bars the student’s return to the classroom of the teacher who removed the student, unless that teacher consents. The teacher’s consent cannot be coerced. A student who assaults a teacher cannot be returned to that teacher’s classroom without consent, even if no DAEP placement occurred.
Mandatory Removal/Expulsion: A student who is expelled may not be returned to the classroom of the teacher under whose supervision the offense occurred without that teacher’s consent, and the teacher cannot be coerced to consent. The placement review committee cannot override the teacher’s refusal of consent.
What is the Placement Review Committee?
Following the formal exercise of removal authority by the teacher, the principal cannot return the student to the teacher’s classroom unless the teacher consents or a placement review committee determines the return is necessary because the teacher’s classroom is the best or only alternative available. Each school must establish a three-member committee with two teachers (and one alternate) chosen by the campus faculty to serve as members. One member is chosen by the principal from the professional staff of the campus.
What process must be followed when a student is removed, under either the discretionary or mandatory removal provisions?
The principal must schedule a conference no later than the third class day after the day of removal. The student cannot be returned to the regular classroom before the conference.
The student is entitled to notice of the reasons for removal and an opportunity to respond. In addition to the student, those entitled to attend are the student’s parent or guardian; the teacher who removed the student; and the campus behavior coordinator.
Whether these individuals attend or not, the campus behavior coordinator must then order the student’s placement for a period consistent with the local code of conduct.To expel a student, the board or its designee must provide the student a hearing with constitutional due process. The student’s parent or guardian must be invited — in writing — to attend. The board’s decision can be appealed to district court.
Bus Driver Removal Authority
The Safe Schools Act requires every school district to specify the circumstances under which a student may be removed from a school bus.
- It grants the school bus driver explicit authority to remove a student by sending that student to the principal’s office to maintain effective discipline on the school bus.
- It also requires the principal to respond by employing appropriate discipline management techniques consistent with the student code of conduct.
- This authority provides a mechanism to compel administrative attention and action regarding misconduct that jeopardizes student safety on school buses.
Students with Disabilities
A student who receives special education services is subject to the same state standards triggering removal from class, but long-term (more than 10 days) placement of such a student can be made only by an Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) committee.
The law allows a principal to order emergency alternative placement in a DAEP or expulsion without prior due process. In either case, the principal must give the student the same due process as in other removals, no later than 10 days after taking the action.
Access to Information Regarding Student Misconduct
A teacher responsible for a student’s instruction and that teacher’s instructional aide are entitled to notification by the principal or the principal’s designee of any misconduct by a student that is listed as grounds for mandatory removal from the classroom of the teacher.
If a law enforcement agency arrests of refers a student to juvenile jurisdiction for a felony, school personnel must receive the following notifications.
- The superintendent must be notified of the arrest or juvenile referral before the next school day, or within 24 hours, whichever is earlier.
- The superintendent must “immediately notify all instructional and support personnel who have responsibility for supervision of the student.”
- The superintendent also must be notified before the next school day, or within 24 hours, when a student has been convicted or adjudicated delinquent for a felony or certain other offenses, and the notice must indicate whether the student is required to register as a sex offender.
- The superintendent must, “within 24 hours of receiving notification from the office of the prosecuting attorney, or before the next school day, whichever is earlier, notify all instructional and support personnel who have regular contact with the student.”
- The superintendent must send the full written information received, including details of violent behavior or weapons used, to all district employees with direct supervisory responsibility over the student.
- These notice requirements apply to all felonies and to specified misdemeanor offenses: unlawful restraint; indecent exposure; assault; deadly conduct; terroristic threat; gang-related offenses; drug offenses; or weapon offenses.
Personnel who receive confidential information cannot disclose the information to unauthorized persons. Unauthorized, intentional disclosure is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Unauthorized disclosure also is a potential ethics violation subject to certificate sanctions.
Resources and Trainings
Texas AFT offers trainings on use of the Safe Schools Act and removal authority for teachers and bus drivers. We also have guidance documents for districts on the steps needed to implement bus driver removal authority.
Contact your local union or the state office at 512-448-0130 to schedule a training in your district.