Dallas ISD and a New Discipline Policy

Texas’ second largest school district is on track to also become one of our most progressive in terms of disciplinary action.  Dallas ISD is moving towards rewriting its school discipline code to end discretionary suspensions for minor things like disruption and profanity.  This is expected to have an enormous impact on minority students, especially Black students, who are the hardest hit by in-school suspensions, particularly for minor offenses.  This is a deliberate action, spurred by the civil unrest that started last summer, to unravel policies that are roadblocks to equity and disproportionately affect Black students.

The new policy would maintain suspensions and expulsions for illegal activities as mandated by state law, but it would eradicate these extreme measures for minor infractions.  It could also change how behaviors such as bullying and fighting are dealt with by campus officials.  These new policies are expected to be approved by the Dallas ISD school board, and this would make the district’s policies the first of its kind in Texas and one of the most progressive in the country.

In lieu of out-of-school suspension, students would stay on campus in what the district is terming “reset centers” where students will use Zoom to access their regular classes. Importantly, students would also use technology tools to access mental health professionals, therapeutic programs, and other restorative programs.  This is an essential component of the policy.  The goal is no longer just to punish but to provide help.  Zoom has become quite the staple in public education over the last school year, and now it can be used to keep kids “in class” as well as connect them with appropriate resources.

In school districts nation-wide, black students are usually disproportionately impacted by school discipline procedures.  They may be a minority of the school population but constitute the majority of suspensions and expulsions.  This is a problem academically, of course, as some students are routinely missing instruction and without access to the same learning experiences as their peers due to minor misbehaviors that are better dealt with through restorative practices on campus.  But extreme punitive measures for small infractions also impact a student’s sense of belonging and community, something that negatively impacts performance and success as well, both in the classroom and in life beyond the classroom.

The return to “normal” classrooms next fall will include healing from the grief and trauma of the previous year and a half, coping with learning loss, readjusting to socializing amidst school norms, and managing emotions and frustrations. These are enormously difficult tasks for the adults in the room, much less the students.  We are looking at another “unprecedented” year in public education, and minor infractions are likely to skyrocket as some students struggle to recalibrate.  Bravo to Dallas ISD for taking this first step towards helping kids instead of punishing them, for recognizing the inequity and institutional racism inherent in many disciplinary policies, and for taking the pragmatic steps forward to create real and lasting change.

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