If HISD Isn't Going to Expel the Little Bitties, Where's it Going to Put Them?

What do we do now?
What do we do now?

It seemed a simple enough policy and one that school districts in other states across the country have recently adopted. Don't throw out the youngest kids in elementary school just because they are sometimes, to put it mildly, jerks.

Instead, recognize that when they misbehave it may be because they come from tough backgrounds and could use a little extra help and understanding. So the Houston ISD proposed not expelling or suspending kids who are in the second grade and below. And either option would be an absolute last resort for third- through fifth graders.

The measure was fast-tracked for the October 15 board agenda.  

And just as abruptly pulled.

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Ah the laws of unintended consequences, or perhaps just not thinking things through enough. If you don't sent students home (and that's assuming someone will be there to receive), where are you going to put them? Especially in a school district where many of its campuses are already bursting at the seams with no more space to build up or out, or even the extra campus space that could host another temporary building.

As teachers and school volunteers can attest, finding space often to give that bit of extra tutoring or reading time to a kid can often strain the limits of administrator ingenuity. Areas that used to be called closets are now tiny offices. Not particularly expansive offices have been redesigned into classrooms. An on-campus meeting with central office staffers can precipitate a domino effect in which a school's program coordinator ends up cooling her heels in the cafeteria for an hour or two until she can reclaim her space from the visitors.

As for keeping kids in the classroom who are acting out – well the only problem with that is what about the rest of the kids, many of whom are trying to get along in the classroom, learn something, maybe stay out of trouble themselves. How should they negotiate constant disruptions? Is that a good learning environment?

In the district's announcement that it was requesting further study, Superintendent Terry Grier was quoted as saying: “We understand better now than we ever have before how exposure to early adversity affects the developing brains and bodies of children. We must take a hard look at how we are handling these issues to ensure we're not contributing to an already stressful situation for these students.”

Well-intentioned, laudable and dead-on.

But as the press release densely alluded to in a reference about needing “additional information about the educator support systems that are tied to the proposal” – where are they going to get the people to work with these kids?

“If you have a child who is disrupting the classroom, what type of interventions do you have in place?” HISD trustee Juliet Stipeche explained. “Do you have counselors at your school?” Many HISD schools do not.

“No one wants to criminalize these little babies, but what support systems to we have in place?” she added.

Houston ISD – like others in the area (Fort Bend ISD for one) – has some very uncomfortable statistics to account for in terms of racial disparity in the discipline it's handing out. “Though African American students make up just 25 percent of the district population, they were involved in 70 percent of discipline incidents for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade,” the HISD press release stated.

So, there's absolute agreement that something definitely needs to be done to change this cycle. Whatever else happens, HISD says it is undertaking additional classroom management training for teachers with an eye to equip them with better skills (tricks?) to keep a disruptive students in a class while getting on with the business of teaching. 

Meanwhile, are kids who are acting out going to pile up in the principal's office? Sit in the cafeteria? Be put in a special class all by themselves labeled  the "bad kid class"?

It's like a do-it-yourself home repair. The goal is to just re-frame that window – something within the household budget, within the expertise of the homeowners doing the work, within the time they have allotted for it. The complication is when the sheet rock adjoining the window tears and there's the discovery that there's no insulation and the studs are rotting and all of a sudden to make that new window frame work, a lot of other things have to happen. You may have to bring in the experts.

And best intentions get tripped up by other, more expensive and unavoidable realities that have been set aside for far too long. 

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