Dallas ISD Debates Whether to Keep Suspending Little Kids

The Dallas ISD board is going to take a long look at board Vice President Miguel Solis' idea to get stop suspending kids in kindergarten, first and second grade. Solis hopes it's not too long.

Solis first brought up his plan at last month's board briefing. Keeping kids out of school for disciplinary reasons, he argued, only served to force kids who get suspended further behind. He got pushback from the rest of the board, led by trustee Joyce Foreman, who told Solis that he would be taking away an important disciplinary tool from educators.

Foreman and trustee Bernadette Nutall wanted more data and more discussion before they even thought about ending a policy that has been decried by the likes of the U.S. Education Department.

“Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not,” a summary of a department study said.

Thursday afternoon, Dallas ISD staff came back with the data, which backed up Solis' case. Last year, 1,178 K-2 students were sent home for a total of 1,991 days. Of those, 760 were black and 571 were black males. Almost one out of every two early childhood suspensions served in the district was served by black boys, despite that fact that the district is only 23 percent African American.

Still, Nutall fought back again Thursday.

"What do you suggest a teacher do if a student is throwing chairs?" she asked Solis in the midst of complaining that teachers couldn't physically restrain students. If a kid doesn't get suspended, she said, "then that child can beat up my child again. They get to fight and fight and fight."

Foreman said that suspensions happened because there is too little continuity at Dallas ISD schools, a frequent complaint in her battles with former Superintendent Mike Miles. "Campus leaders don't have enough experience and we’re having such a high turnover of teachers, it’s no wonder we’re having this problem," she said.

What was needed, Foreman and Nutall and board President Lew Blackburn decided Thursday, was more study, an ad hoc committee on school discipline that will bring some sort of plan to the board sometime next winter. Blackburn wants to deal with the bigger picture, he said, rather than saying "we shall not suspend."

That was fine with Solis, as long as his priorities, something as simple in this case as not suspending the youngest kids in the district — which costs the district about $68,000 in federal funding each year — don't get buried in bureaucracy

"At the end of the day, at the very least, I need to know that when I walk out of the room that something is going to change, that this is not death by committee or death by task force," he said.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young