The district would implement a Reset Center model that aims to maintain student academic progress.
Kicking students out of school will no longer be a go-to option for Dallas educators if trustees approve a proposal aimed at cutting down on practices that have disproportionately impacted Black students.
Trustees were briefed on a new student code of conduct Thursday that would remove suspensions — both in-school and out-of-school — as a potential repercussion for most offenses. Only severe misconduct — such as possessing drugs or making a terroristic threat — might still require a student to be expelled or removed from campus.
Educators would rely on a menu of other disciplinary consequences, including sending students to new Reset Centers — classrooms in more than 50 comprehensive middle and high schools meant to separate students from their normal environment while not disrupting their academic progress. They differ from in-school suspension in that students would have to complete classwork remotely while working to address behavioral issues.
“It’s a moral imperative — as educators and as human beings — when we look at our [discipline] data … that we do something different for kids and for schools,” said Vince Reyes, DISD’s assistant superintendent for school leadership.
Trustees are expected to approve the discipline overhaul at a June 24 meeting. The changes would be implemented next school year.
The proposal represents a seismic shift in the way schools discipline students. Dallas ISD would be among the country’s first large urban districts to make such a change.
Research shows that students who receive discipline at school are more likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system later in life, bolstering what some call a school-to-prison pipeline.
Local and statewide education advocates called in March for a discipline overhaul, demanding that DISD “abolish exclusionary disciplinary practices” to redress racial disparities.
Black students are disproportionately represented in discipline data nationwide. In the 2019-20 school year, for example, roughly 52% of DISD’s out-of-school suspensions were of Black students, who made up only 21.6% of student enrollment.
After the murder of George Floyd, the Dallas school board adopted a resolution declaring that Black lives matter. Trustees also committed the district to improving racial inequities. A task force has been meeting since March to explore changing the student code of conduct, which outlines consequences for infractions, detailing penalties for actions such as cheating, smoking an e-cigarette and bringing a gun to school.
The updated policy, with changes from the task force, removes mention of suspensions and introduces the Reset Center concept.
Centers would be staffed by educators trained in building relationships with students. These educators would also serve as the trainer for their campus on social-emotional learning and restorative justice, which seeks to empower students to resolve conflicts on their own.
The rooms are designed to soothe students. They would feature flexible seating for restorative circles, calming colors, mood meters, and fidget and sensory tools.
Students would be expected to continue their classwork while working on behavior improvement at the Reset Centers, Sherry Christian, deputy chief of staff, told trustees at a meeting in May.
“The whole purpose of this is for a child to come there, change behavior and not come back,” Christian said.
However, classwork may be done out of sync with real-time instruction, Superintendent Michael Hinojosa noted Thursday. Students would complete classwork around the schedule of their other reset activities, which might mean they would watch recorded lessons or use applications to view instruction.
School board President Ben Mackey has worried that the centers could be used as a places for teachers to send students when they don’t want to deal with them in regular classrooms.
Teachers would have to follow a formal process to send a student to a center, Christian noted, adding that it would not be a subjective decision.
DISD staff would monitor data on who is continually referred to the centers and for how many days to ensure that the Reset Centers don’t become “another [in-school suspension] in disguise,” Reyes said.
If administrators see “repeat offenders” who make several trips to the center, they should refer the students to mental health clinicians to diagnose their underlying issues, Christian said.
Trustee Karla Garcia encouraged staffers to also survey students about their experience as they entered and exited the centers and store the results alongside the numeric information to better shape the future of the program.
District leaders plan to open the centers across 52 campuses. DISD would hire and train center coordinators and craft support plans for elementary and magnet schools.
Students would not be assigned to a Reset Center for more than three consecutive days, and students in second grade and under could not be removed from their classrooms for minor infractions.
Four years ago, Dallas was one of the first districts to ban discretionary out-of-school suspensions for students in second grade and younger. Then a state representative, Mayor Eric Johnson helped pass a similar policy for the entire state.
The district would still have the option of placing students in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program — and removing them from their home campus — for more severe infractions of the student code, including assaulting another student or possessing drugs. State law even requires it in some instances.
Trustee Joyce Foreman expressed concerns about a widespread ban on suspensions for low-level misbehavior.
“I don’t want to see us push a policy that goes too far,” she said, adding that it is important to communicate that severe offenses could still result in removal from the classroom.
Trustee Dustin Marshall suggested standing up a committee of community members who could help guide the future of the discipline process and monitor its progress.
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The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.
The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.