As we gear up for the 83rd Texas Legislature to convene in January 2013, TCTA offers you this series of “Session Prep” articles that provide the facts on hot-button issues you may discuss with your legislators. See also:
Session Prep: Charter school performance
Session Prep: TRS benefits
Session Prep: Test-based accountability
Session Prep: Vouchers and tax credits

Session Prep: Texas schools' success
Session Prep: Communicating with your legislators

School discipline:

Why it’s a hot issue

Texas Appleseed – a group that refers to the Texas school discipline system as the “school-to-prison pipeline” because of its belief that the removal of students from class for disciplinary actions in school leads to conduct indicating a need for supervision by juvenile authorities and later incarceration in the adult penal system – has made recommendations that could effectively limit teachers’ ability to maintain classroom discipline by limiting districts’ authority to place students in disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs).

TCTA has testified several times in legislative committees against the assertion by Appleseed and others who claim that disciplinary removals lead to a greater likelihood of a life of crime by noting that "correlation is not causation" and that it is not surprising that adults with criminal records have a history of behavioral issues in school.

Background on Appleseed

Appleseed initially limited its efforts to calling for an end to strict “zero tolerance” policies by providing that schools consider a student’s mental state and legal justification when making disciplinary decisions. TCTA actually helped draft and supported that bill to address criticisms of so-called “zero tolerance” policies that led some district officials to believe they had to place students in DAEPs for inadvertent actions such as accidentally leaving a Boy Scout knife in a jacket.

Then, in 2011, House Bill 968 changed the standard for expulsions of students who engage in serious or persistent misbehavior while in a district’s DAEP. It previously involved “serious or persistent misbehavior” in violation of the student code of conduct that occurs during DAEP placement.

Now expulsion is allowed only if a student is documented to have engaged in serious misbehavior “while on the program despite documented behavioral interventions.” The introduction of required documentation of behavioral interventions is new, and persistent misbehavior alone can no longer be a reason for expulsion. The behavior must be “serious,” which now is explicitly defined.

This change was supported by juvenile justice authorities who operate the Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs) due to concerns that they have no authority over students who have not been adjudicated as engaging in conduct indicating a need for supervision. TCTA opposed this bill due to our concerns that district DAEP teachers have few resources to enforce rules requiring orderly behavior.

The 2011 law is an example of the types of attempts we may see during the 2013 legislative session – attempts potentially directed at discretionary removals from the regular classroom. These efforts may include adding new hurdles to be cleared prior to the implementation of a discretionary removal, or limiting the reasons for which a student can be removed.

The latest from Appleseed

Appleseed's October 2012 report asserts that school districts spend more than they need to on DAEP placements, and that an inclusionary model of discipline such as Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) would be a more cost-effective approach to “exclusionary discipline.” 

TCTA disagrees with this approach. We believe teachers should be responsible for routine classroom management and that seriously or persistently disruptive students should receive intervention outside the classroom. If anything, districts should spend more resources to staff DAEPs so that they can provide the sort of intervention that will address these students’ behavioral issues while protecting the learning environment of the other students in the classroom.

The specific recommendations in Appleseed’s report include limiting the reasons for which districts can suspend students to unsupervised settings (i.e., send them home) for up to three days and amending student codes of conduct to limit the kinds of behavior that can trigger a DAEP referral “to only those serious offenses where other forms of intervention have not proven successful or campus safety is at risk.” 

TCTA’s concerns

TCTA’s concern is that any change in the law to limit so-called discretionary DAEP removals will limit teachers’ authority to remove disruptive students from class, a result that is implicit in Appleseed’s criticism of “exclusionary discipline.” 

In addition, there is a movement to do away with the practice of ticketing students by school district police forces. TCTA has no position on this issue, but we have asked the Senate committees on Education and Criminal Justice to provide an equal or more effective tool for teachers to address discipline if they take one away.

Data on school discipline

According to Teaching Interrupted, a report by Public Agenda for Common Good, a nonprofit, bipartisan research organization:

  • 97 percent of teachers and 78 percent of parents say good discipline and behavior is a prerequisite for a successful school.
  • 85 percent of teachers and 73 percent of parents say the school experience of most students suffers at the expense of a few chronic offenders. Most teachers (78 percent) report that students who are persistent behavior problems are not removed from school grounds.
  • 77 percent of teachers say their teaching would be more effective if they didn’t have to spend so much time dealing with disruptive students, while 43 percent of parents say their child would accomplish more in school if their teachers weren’t distracted by discipline issues.
  • More than one in three teachers say they have seriously considered leaving the profession – or know a colleague who has left – because student discipline and behavior became so intolerable.

Teaching Interrupted also reported that the top causes of behavior problems in the nation’s schools are:

  • parents’ failure to teach their children discipline (so said 82 percent of teachers and 74 percent of parents)
  • general attitude of disrespect within our culture (73 percent vs. 68 percent)
  • overcrowded schools and classrooms (62 percent vs. 54 percent)
  • parents who are hasty in challenging school decisions on discipline (58 percent vs. 42 percent)
  • districts that back down from assertive parents (55 percent vs. 48 percent)
  • teachers who ease up on discipline because they worry they may not get support (52 percent of teachers)

So while teachers and schools must deal with discipline issues to maintain effective learning environments, often their underlying causes may not be within the scope of the public schools’ mission or resources.

The law on school discipline

Section 37.002 of the Texas Education Code is a critical tool that teachers use to maintain a classroom environment conducive to learning, and it must be preserved. This law:

  • allows a teacher to send a student to the principal’s office to maintain effective discipline in the classroom
  • provides for removal of a student from a teacher’s classroom based on documented repeated interference 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
  • provides for removal of a student from a teacher’s class for a single event if his behavior, in the teacher’s determination, 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
  • requires teachers to remove students and send them to the principal for placement in a DAEP or expulsion if the students engage in behavior requiring a mandatory removal or expulsion under Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code (such as assaults of teachers or other serious crimes)

TCTA’s stance on school discipline

One of TCTAs top legislative priorities for the upcoming session is to preserve and expand teacher disciplinary authority. In previous sessions, TCTA has initiated and passed bills to ensure that teachers are notified of students with a serious criminal history, and each session we defend against efforts to weaken teachers’ ability to remove disruptive students from the classroom.

Teachers are asking for help with maintaining discipline, and TCTA will pursue legislation (as we have in previous sessions) that would require each campus to designate a campus discipline officer so that discipline issues can be handled outside the classroom.