House approves bill to ban suspension of Texas’ youngest students

The Texas House has passed a bill that would prohibit public school officials from suspending Texas’ youngest students.

House Bill 674 by Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, would no longer allow suspensions of third graders or younger. The bill, approved Tuesday, makes some exceptions for violent behavior, bringing a weapon onto school property or dealing drugs or alcohol.

“The idea is at a very young age, kids start to become labeled as problem children and it leads them to … internalizing that belief about themselves … and putting them on the path to incarceration,” Johnson said from the floor.

READ: Austin trustees weigh ban on suspensions for youngest students

Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, suggested that school districts, not the state, should decide how to handle student discipline.

Some large urban school boards, including the Austin and Dallas school districts, have passed policies to prohibit the suspension of young students. In February, the Austin school board approved a policy to ban suspensions, expulsions or alternative disciplinary programs for students in prekindergarten through second grade.

Hundreds of students in those grades are suspended from Austin schools every year. While numbers have been decreasing, black, Latino and special education students are suspended in disproportionate numbers, the American-Statesman has reported. Of the 351 prekindergarten-through-second grade students suspended last year, 85 percent were black or Latino. Some offenses include using rude language and leaving without permission.

Those who support the ban said suspensions are punitive and ineffective, leading to higher rates of academic failure, dropouts and prison, pointing to research that backs their claims.

Senate Bill 370 filed by state Sen. Sylvia R. Garcia, D-Houston, bans suspensions and expulsions of third graders or younger. It’s been passed out of committee but has not been considered by the full Senate.

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