Suspended Childhood An Analysis of Exclusionary Discipline of Texas' Pre-K and Elementary School Students

The Problem

In schools across the country, very young students are being suspended and expelled at alarming rates. Even children in pre-school are being pushed out of their classrooms, usually for minor behaviors that should be addressed through school-based supports and interventions.

Unfortunately, Texas public schools are no different in the way they punish very young children. For this report, Texas Appleseed analyzed data on in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, and placements in disciplinary alternative education programs for Texas children in pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) through fifth grade. The results presented in this report are part of a larger analysis that will be released in the coming year.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Texas schools issued 88,310 out-of-school suspensions to young children:

Total Out-of-School Suspensions Among Elementary Students in Texas (2013-2014)

In addition to these out-of-school suspensions,

In the 2013-2014 school year, Texas issued 193,819 in-school suspensions to young children:

Total In-School Suspensions Among Elementary Students in Texas (2013-2014)

These numbers are conservative. Data for some districts are masked to protect students' identities when the total number of discipline actions is relatively low (between one and four). Though we have only analyzed the lowest numbers for this report, the number of out-of-school suspensions for Pre-K through 5th graders could be as high as 96,107. The number of in-school suspensions for Pre-K through 5th graders could be as high as 202,810.

Because of these class exclusions, thousands of Texas children are missing important classroom learning time, are being labeled early by teachers and peers as “problem students,” and are being exposed to ineffective and harmful models of problem solving and conflict resolution. Further, these punishments impact certain groups of students more than others—Black children, boys, and students with special education needs are pushed out of class at unequal rates compared to their peers.

  • Black students make up about 13% of the elementary school population in Texas, but they account for 42% of all Pre-K through 5th grade out-of-school suspensions.
Pre-K through 5th Grade in Texas (2013-2014)
  • Boys represent 51% of the total student population in Texas, but they account for 84% of all Pre-K through 5th grade out-of-school suspensions.
Pre-K through 5th Grade in Texas (2013-2014)
  • Students who receive special education services are 9% of the total student population in Texas, but they account for 22% of all Pre-K through 5th grade out-of-school suspensions.
Pre-K through 5th Grade in Texas (2013-2014)

This report gives an overview of the frequency with which Texas’ youngest children are punished in their schools and highlights some of the negative impacts that class exclusions have on these students. This report also provides several policy recommendations that can be implemented at the local and state levels as well as tips for how parents and community organizations can advocate for their children.

A study of nearly one million Texas public school children found that 97% of classroom removals were discretionary and were not required by law. These removals were made in response to Student Code of Conduct violations.

What kind of discipline can be imposed on Pre-K and Elementary students in Texas?

[In] kindergarten, I know he was suspended probably more than 40 times.

Many parents and community members are surprised to find that, in Texas, even very young students can be suspended or expelled. School administrators have almost the same range of options available for exclusionary discipline of young students that exist for older students:

  • In-School Suspensions (ISS): ​When students are placed in in-­school suspension, they are sent to a designated classroom for an amount of time ranging from a class period to a few days. All placements in ISS are discretionary, meaning there is no law that requires educators to use ISS to punish specific behaviors. Unfortunately, there are also no requirements that students receive the same instruction in an ISS classroom that they would in their regular classrooms, which can cost students important learning time. Many times, students are sent to ISS for “offenses” that are extremely minor, like dress code violations. There is no minimum age for in­-school suspensions.
  • Out-of-School Suspensions (OSS): Even Pre-K and elementary school students may be suspended out of school for up to three days. There is no limit to the number of times a student can be suspended during a school year. OSS is discretionary—the reasons for removal are outlined in each district’s Student Code of Conduct, but these suspensions are not required by law. Students may not report to school and there is no designated place for suspended students to go that is monitored by a teacher or district employee.
It sounded unbelievable.
  • Disciplinary Alternative Education Program (DAEP): A DAEP is a placement for students who are removed from their regular classrooms for more than three days for a discipline violation. Many times DAEPs are located on a separate campus, completely segregated from the general population of students. Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code mandates placement in a DAEP for certain serious offenses. While these programs are required to teach children the core curriculum (English, math, science, and history) they are often not as rigorous as mainstream programs, and children fall behind their peers during these placements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has identified placement in a DAEP as a factor that increases students' risk of dropping out of school. Any student over the age of six can be placed in a DAEP.
  • Expulsions: Children under 10 years old may not be expelled unless they bring a firearm to school; for all other expellable offenses, children under 10 must be sent to a DAEP.

The Impact

There are a number of negative outcomes associated with removing young children from class. While students certainly feel the harmful effects of exclusionary punishments immediately, it is also important to recognize the significant and lasting impacts of class exclusions on children's academic, social, behavioral, and emotional development.

Young students who are expelled or suspended are as much as 10 times more likely to drop out of high school, experience academic failure and grade retention, hold negative school attitudes, and face incarceration than those who are not.

The Impact

Missed Classroom Time: When children are removed from class they lose important learning time. A student who is suspended 40 times could miss between 40 and 120 days of classroom learning time each year, out of 180 total school days. When students are not learning from their regular classroom teachers they can quickly fall behind, leaving them feeling frustrated, detached from school, and hopeless.

Creates Mistrust: Young students are often punished for very minor behaviors, like dress code violations or talking during class. In other instances, a child's actions may be a symptom of other, more serious underlying issues that should be addressed with evaluations, treatment, and appropriate services.

In either case, when children are excluded from class they begin to lose faith in a system that seems to punish them, and their peers, randomly and without regard for the underlying cause of the behavior. This mistrust can shape childrens' attitudes toward school for the rest of their lives.

Difficult for Families: School discipline removals can cause stress for families, particularly when DAEP placements and out-of-school suspensions require parents to adjust their work schedules. This adjustment may be a particularly significant burden for working families in Texas who could find it difficult to stay at home to care for young children excluded from school.

Garrett, an 8 year-old 2nd grader with autism was sent home over 50 days in one semester due to behavioral problems. Garrett's aunt was always called to pick him up. She eventually lost her job because she missed so many days caring for her nephew. The aunt decided to home school Garrett because he was not receiving an education from the school district and she could not hold a job with all of his class removals.

--- Houston-area attorney who represents children who are pushed out of school.

The Impact

Ineffective "Solution": The use of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions does not improve student behavior or overall school climate, according to the American Psychological Association. In fact, these exclusions have been shown to negatively impact individual student behavior and classroom climate.

Other, research-based alternatives to exclusionary discipline, like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Restorative Discipline, have been shown to improve student behavior and dramatically reduce the use of classroom removals.

Lisa, a 7 year-old student with intellectual disabilities was sent home two to three times per week for behavioral issues. The school district never conducted the necessary behavior evaluations that should be performed for students with disabilities until Lisa's parents found an attorney to help them. 

--- Houston-area advocate

Early Labeling: Students who are removed from their classrooms may feel as though they have been labeled as "bad" or "problem" children. This can be particularly devastating for young children who are in the process of developing their self-identities and forging relationships with teachers and peers. A negative label could have a significant impact on a child's social-emotional development, teachers' expectations for success, and treatment from peers.

Poor Modeling: Very young children are in the process of learning effective communication and conflict resolution techniques, often basing their behaviors on the models they see in school. When suspensions and expulsions are used—especially to address minor behaviors or in response to actions that actually require real interventions—young children begin to believe, incorrectly, that punishment and exclusion are the only ways to solve problems.

The Impact

Disproportionate Impact: Black children, boys, and students with disabilities are punished at disproportionately high rates. Often, these differences are most stark for very young children.

  • In the U.S., African American students represent 18% of pre-school enrollment, but account for 42% of students suspended once and 48% of students suspended more than once.

Studies show that many educators have unconscious, or implicit, biases that impact how they assess and punish the behavior of certain groups of students, like children of color and students with disabilities. These biases can cause educators to punish some students more harshly and more frequently than others, even for the exact same behaviors.

The Data

This report provides an analysis of exclusionary discipline practices across 1,227 school districts in Texas, covering over 2 million elementary school students. All of the data for this report were provided by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), which maintains district-level information about discipline in Texas public schools.

The following tables show the total number of actions (or incidents) for each type of exclusionary discipline, not the number of individual students who received a particular punishment. Importantly, individual students can experience multiple actions in a school year. Both state- and district-level summary tables are presented, as well as figures showing trends by grade level, race, special education status, and gender.

District-level analyses provide additional insights about the prevalence and character of suspensions in elementary schools. For elementary students in Texas, out-of-school suspensions across the 10 largest school districts account for more than a third of the total out-of-school suspensions in the state.

Not surprisingly, some districts have higher suspension rates than others. Among the ten districts with the most out-of-school suspensions in 2013-2014, Waco ISD, Aldine ISD, Fort Worth ISD, and Killeen ISD had the highest rates of out-of-school suspensions. In Waco ISD, for example, there were 22 out-of-school suspensions for every 100 elementary school students during the 2013-2014 school year.

As discussed previously, certain groups of students are disproportionately affected by exclusionary discipline practices. Overall, Black students were more than twice as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as White students during the 2013-2014 school year. This pattern was particularly apparent in grades K-2.

Although Black students make up only 13% of the elementary school-age population (Pre-K through 5th grade) in Texas schools, they account for 42% of out-of-school suspensions.

Similarly, by kindergarten, students who are eligible for special education services receive 22% of out-of-school suspensions though they comprise only 9% of the student body.

Finally, boys are more than three times as likely to receive out-of-school suspensions as girls.

Note. Many of the figures presented above are conservative estimates given TEA's policies for protecting students' identities. TEA redacts (or masks) data points reflecting fewer than five students. For purposes of this study, we conducted analyses assuming all redacted cells were the minimum possible value (1). Thus, in many cases, true figures may be as much as 10% higher than those presented in this report.

The Solutions

School districts, educators, legislators, and families have the power to change the way young children are treated in Texas public schools.


1. Limit suspensions, DAEP placements, and expulsions for young children.

Each school district should adopt formal policies that clearly limit in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions, placements in Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs, and expulsions for elementary school students. These policies should be incorporated into each district’s Student Code of Conduct so that families are aware of how their children will be treated.

2. Encourage school-wide policies to limit disciplinary exclusions.

Educators and school administrators should make it clear to teachers and staff that the use of classroom removals should be limited, even if a formal policy has not yet been adopted by the school district. Appropriate incentives can be established for educators who use alternative, effective methods to address student behavior.

3. ​Train educators in research-based alternatives.

There are a number of alternatives to exclusionary discipline that have proven effective in reducing the use of classroom removals. Examples include Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Restorative Discipline, and Social-Emotional Learning, all of which are available to many Texas schools. When implemented properly, these methods give educators the tools they need to successfully manage their classrooms without relying on harmful suspensions, expulsions, or alternative education placements.


1. Limit suspensions, DAEP placements, and expulsions for young children.

Texas has the opportunity to be a national leader in the way young children are disciplined in school. During the 2017 legislative session, legislators should support bills that limit suspensions, expulsions, and Disciplinary Alternative Education Program placements for Texas’ youngest children.

Parents, students, and community organizations Should:

1. Advocate for district- and school-wide changes to discipline policies and practices.

Parents, students, and community organizations have a powerful voice. That voice can be used to push for changes at each school campus, at school board meetings, and at the legislature. At every level, leaders should be encouraged to stop excluding young children from school and instead provide the supports they need to be successful.

2. Challenge individual classroom removals.

According to the Texas Education Code, parents and students have the right to challenge suspensions, DAEP placements, and expulsions. Unfortunately, many parents and students do not take advantage of these rights. Parents should receive notice when their child is removed from class and every student should be able to present his or her side of the story and argue that a removal is inappropriate.

Contact Us

Please contact us to learn more about discipline and other school safety issues, share your story, report a concern, and join the growing group of students, parents, and advocates who support limiting school exclusions for young children.

Texas Appleseed's mission is to promote social and economic justice for all Texans by leveraging the skills and resources of volunteer lawyers and other professionals to identify practical solutions to difficult systemic problems.

Copyright 2015, Texas Appleseed.

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