Our Texas Legacy
In the first two blog posts in this series, Deborah and I described some of the school safety proposals — including hardening schools, bringing back zero tolerance discipline, and increasing the presence of school police officers — that are currently being discussed and debated by school administrators, educators, parents, students, advocates, and lawmakers across the state. Many of us who work on school discipline, school policing, and school safety issues are concerned that these proposals lack a solid basis in research or evidence, something Texas Appleseed has long advocated are critical components to good school discipline policy. We are also worried that these conversations sometimes seem to omit the fact that the Texas legislature has long had a bipartisan understanding that these policies are harmful and has worked to pass positive legislation based on that understanding.
The Texas legislature has an impressive history of taking positive steps to ensure students are not excluded from their classrooms and criminalized for school-based behaviors precisely because many questions about harmful approaches and best practices for how we treat young people in schools have been asked and answered. While there is still a great amount of work left to do, we must always be sure to remember the important steps that we have already taken so that we continue to move forward, not backward, as we seek to protect the wellbeing of Texas students. Here are a few of the notable, bipartisan changes to the law from just the past five legislative sessions:
In 2017, House Bill 674 ended most out-of-school suspensions for pre-K through 2nd grade students across the state and encouraged school districts to adopt age-appropriate, research-based behavior models that did not rely on harmful classroom exclusions. Before the statewide law had passed, Houston, Austin, Dallas, and El Paso ISDs had already changed their district policies to keep the youngest students in class, learning important lessons about social development with their teachers and peers.
In 2015, House Bill 2398 decriminalized truancy, ending the stress of fines and fees, the trauma of the criminal court process, and the stigma of a criminal record for the thousands of students who were charged with the Class C misdemeanor, Failure to Attend School, each year.
In 2013, Senate Bill 1114 and Senate Bill 393 eliminated two common school-based Class C misdemeanors — Disruption of Class and Disruption of Transportation — and changed the practice of ticketing children for Class C misdemeanors on their home campuses. These changes ensured that tens of thousands of Texas children would not get caught up in the criminal justice system for minor, school-based behaviors.
In 2011, House Bill 359 prohibited the Class C ticketing of students in 6th grade and below for certain, non-violent school behaviors for which students were commonly charged. These young children were being sent to adult criminal court for behaviors, like disrupting class, that should have been addressed by an educator in the school setting.
In 2009, House Bill 171 mandated the end of a harmful zero tolerance to student behavior by requiring school districts to consider a student’s discipline history, intent, disability (or disabilities), and whether they acted in self-defense before the student could be suspended, sent to an alternative school, or expelled for most behaviors.
These steps forward should be treasured by all of us. They must be fiercely protected because they ensure that the young people who will be making big decisions in the future are well-prepared and are unencumbered by unnecessary and counterproductive discipline records, criminal records, fines, fees, school-based trauma, and academic failure. School safety proposals and policies that increase the number of counselors and social workers in schools, ensure access to approaches like restorative practices, and improve mental health supports will continue to move us forward. Hardening schools and zero tolerance will not.
I believe that when it comes to making policies that impact children, there is often agreement on one thing: most people want what is best for kids. Despite different views, beliefs, and backgrounds, we have managed, time and again, to do what is best for our children. Our Texas legacy depends on building on the good policy decisions that we’ve already made, not repeating mistakes of the past.
Read Part 1 in our Series: What Zero Tolerance School Discipline Policy has in Common with Ford Pintos, Betamax, and Olestra
Read Part 2 in our Series: School Safety is About Strong Relationships, Not Hardened Schools