SAFE, a merger of Austin Children’s Shelter and SafePlace, supports a proposed Austin Independent School District policy that would ban the use of suspensions for students in pre-K through second grade. This policy would end in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and placements in Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEP) not required by law.
Students would still be subject to removal for drug, weapons, and assault infractions, but violations of the Student Code of Conduct would no longer lead to a removal.
Suspensions don’t help traumatized students
In our line of work, we see a lot of trauma and the aftereffects of that trauma. One of the clearest signs of childhood trauma is acting out, and we firmly believe that when this is the case, the approach educators take should not create additional trauma on top of the issues a child is already dealing with.
The research on this is clear: suspensions traumatize already-traumatized kids. Because that is true, suspensions are not an effective way to address problematic behavior in a school setting. In fact, this “zero tolerance”-style response to trauma-driven behavior pushes children closer to negative encounters with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, an outcome we are sure that no one on either side of this issue would seek or desire.
Instead of utilizing suspensions and other responses that seek to punish behavior out of children, we urge Austin ISD to continue to develop more trauma-informed responses for problematic behaviors.
Schools should use a trauma-informed approach. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, “trauma-informed care is an approach to engaging people with histories of trauma that recognizes the presence of trauma symptoms and acknowledges the role that trauma has played in their lives.”
For example, if a child begins yelling and accusing other students or school staff of stealing their food, educators’ first response should not be to hand out detentions or suspensions.
A trauma-informed response would involve looking at the child’s behavior as their means of communicating their trauma.
Why was the child triggered by food? What emotion is really driving this behavior?
Maybe they didn’t have food at home or maybe food was withheld as a punishment. Maybe they’re afraid of going hungry.
We highly recommend the article “There’s no such thing as a bad kid in these Spokane, WA, trauma-informed elementary schools” from ACES Too High News for those seeking to learn more about suspensions and their effect on traumatized students.
Suspensions are discriminatory
We also share the concerns expressed by Texas Appleseed and others about the disproportionate way in which suspensions are handed out to Black students and students with disabilities. We want to ensure that the responses to trauma-driven behaviors are equitable as well as compassionate. We also note that the American Federation of Teachers and the American Psychological Association support bans on these suspensions.
As a long-standing human services organization in Austin specifically dealing with the kinds of trauma underlying the behaviors at issue, we can tell you that these children often have to overcome unthinkable abuse just to make it through the front door of their schools. As a result of behaviors driven by the trauma they face outside the classroom, many students are being sent out of the only nurturing environment they know. This sends a terrible message to a struggling young person.
The message of support and care sent by ending this practice will help these children in ways most people can’t begin to imagine.
What you can do
You can speak out. The Austin ISD School Board is expected to vote on the pre-K through second grade suspension ban Monday, Feb. 27. during the regularly scheduled board meeting. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
To register by phone, call 512.414.4411. On the day of the board meeting, you can sign up by phone or in the Superintendent’s Office (Room A250) from 7:45 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.
You can also register in the Board Auditorium (Building B Room 100) from 4:45–7 p.m.
Each speaker is limited to two minutes, with a limit of 30 speakers.
More information here: https://www.austinisd.org/board/meetings
SAFE commits to continuing our 27-year history of collaboration with Austin ISD through our Expect Respect program, which supports students K-12 who have been exposed to violence or abuse. Early identification and intervention is key to helping vulnerable youth build relationship skills for success in school and life.