KXAN Austin

Austin ISD to scale back discipline on students to eliminate racial disparities

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Beginning in the fall, the Austin Independent School District will be significantly scaling back the way it disciplines children who act up.

The goal is to reduce racial disparities, which show Black and brown students are being disproportionately punished compared to their white classmates.

According to data compiled by the district, Black children at AISD were nearly five times more likely than their white peers to receive disciplinary action, include suspensions, being placed at a disciplinary campus or being expelled.

This is particularly true for middle schoolers. The top five campuses with the highest rates of discipline were middle schools.

Gloria Vera-Bedolla, an AISD mom of three, has been working with both the AISD police department and other district officials to draw attention to these disparities and help reshape the code of conduct.

“When a child is acting out, there is usually something else going on in the background that we are not aware of,” Vera-Bedolla said.

Beginning this fall, in-home suspensions cannot exceed two days. Campus behavior support teams will be created, made up of parents, counselors and teachers, who will continually review the progress of students placed at a disciplinary campus to see if they can return back to school ahead of schedule. The goal is to reduce the amount of time a child is away from the classroom.

Disciplinary removals will no longer occur at the campus level solely by a principal. Instead, disciplinary decisions will be made through an associate superintendent, who will only deliver the punishment after confirming that all other behavioral interventions have been considered.

“The behaviors that we see need to be unpacked, so we can support that whole child,” said AISD Trustee Noelita Lugo.

New training will also be required of teachers, especially the ones who are just beginning their careers and may not have much experience disciplining students. AISD officials said this will be a district-wide discipline philosophy, intended to ensure all children are treated the same way, regardless of their race or campus.

Dr. Anthony Mays, AISD Chief of Schools, said, “If you do have inappropriate behavior, how do you redirect that behavior? What is the appropriate way to redirect that student?”

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.