Bill would address early pickups for students who aren’t suspended

Texas Politics

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Around four years ago, Lisa Flores was receiving phone calls weekly to pick up her son from school. 

“At the time I just didn’t know that it was an undocumented out-of-school suspension,” she said. “It was really disruptive to his education and to us and frankly, had long term, negative impacts on him educationally and emotionally.” 

A report released by advocacy groups Easterseals Central Texas, Texas Appleseed and Disability Rights Texas shows Flores likely isn’t alone. Texas schools are required to report disciplinary data, such as in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, disciplinary alternative education programs and juvenile justice alternative education programs. However, a survey conducted by the groups involving more than 200 parents and 59 educators shows other forms of discipline were used, such as taking away recess, isolated or silent lunches and parent or guardian pickup. 

Flores’ son, who has a disability, was eight years old at the time she started getting pickup calls. 

“They typically said, he’s been having this behavior for this amount of time, please come pick him up,” she explained. “Often times, it was just because they weren’t following his behavior plan. It was something that could’ve easily been prevented.” 

House Bill 2183, filed by Rep. Alma Allen, D-Houston, would require a school district or open-enrollment charter school that initiates communication with a parent and releases a student to a parent before the end of the school day to record it. Allen told other lawmakers on the House Public Education Committee Wednesday night her bill would help track data when schools reach out to parents if there are behavior issues among special education students and individuals with disabilities, but might not know the best way to support them. She also said she’s heard from a parent whose child was sent home more than a dozen times. 

Jolene Sanders, with Easterseals Central Texas, noted early pickups aren’t always due to behavior issues. 

“It’s not necessarily for disciplinary reasons,” she said. “We’ve had parents report that the school calls and says ‘Hey, Johnny’s having a good day so far and we want them to end on a good note. Can you come pick them up?’ We’ve had kids who’ve been picked up because they were trying to make other students laugh or because the teacher’s like, ‘I don’t know how to get him to engage in the class.’ This is often with children who have disabilities.” 

The inconsistencies in reporting aren’t something that’s only been examined in Texas. According to a report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, though there was a drop in Massachusetts’ discipline rates under a law to reduce reliance on exclusionary school discipline, “families, service providers and advocates report an uptick in schools sending students home without reporting it as a suspension.”

There is also a federal lawsuit in Oregon filed by Disability Rights Oregon and several other groups against the state, who say their state is denying children with disabilities the right to a free appropriate public education by shortening their days. Tom Stenson, deputy legal director for Disability Rights Oregon, said he’s since heard from groups and parents in other states about similar experiences. 

Some school districts, in response to inquiries for this story, said they work with parents closely to help all students and are committed to fair practices and consequences in the discipline process. 

Flores has since worked with other parents who’ve faced similar issues with early pickups for students who aren’t suspended, she said. 

“If it is a relevant way to manage behavior, it should be documented and it should be transparent.” 

Allen’s bill would also ensure that the information, reported through the Public Education Information Management System, is made public in a way that does not identify an individual student. The bill’s fiscal note states that the Texas Education Agency estimates a total five-year technology cost of $359,787 to make updates to the Texas Student Data System. 

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