The Texas Civil Rights Project, the Organizing Network for Education Houston, and other community members are sounding the alarm on policy changes they want in the Houston Independent School District Code of Conduct.
Both organizations expect the board to pass the 2022-2023 student code of conduct without community involvement or clarity. Nevertheless, there are three specific changes the organizations are requesting for the district to include– stop using zip ties and pepper spray on students, stop arresting students for non-violent offenses and stop questioning students without a parent/guardian.
According to HISD records, Black students are 41 percent of the district’s Disciplinary Alternative Educational Program (DAEP) referrals and 50% of all out-of-school suspensions despite only being 22 percent of the overall student population.
“The data from the district is clear – school policing disproportionately impacts Black students, which ultimately results in potentially disastrous life-long consequences,” Travis Fife, Equal Justice Works Fellow for the Criminal Injustice program at the Texas Civil Rights Project, said.
“School policing is not the answer to correcting student behavior but rather a barrier to what should be a safe environment for kids to learn, grow, and thrive. We need common sense changes to the code of conduct that ensures kids – no matter their race – will be treated like kids.”
Houston students, educators, and community members said these changes could create a safer learning space for all parties to decrease the school-to-prison pipeline and stray from adverse impacts.
“What support systems can we put in place so that a student doesn’t even get into this type of disciplinary issue,” Alexis Gage, HISD high school biology teacher and ONE Houston organizer, said. “We want to find alternatives, things like restorative justice. How can we make amends if they’ve done something? It doesn’t make sense to arrest a student because they are talking back or on their phone.”
According to HISD records, Black students also make up 51 percent of campus arrests. Both organizations will testify at the HISD Board meeting on Aug. 4 at 6 p.m. to demand changes.
“We’ve partnered with ONE Houston to demand reforms to HISD’s Code of Conduct, but time and time again, HISD has failed to act in the best interest of the community and its students,” Fife said.
Notably, HISD is the largest school district in the state and the eighth largest in the United States.
Gage said these changes would make sure all students have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential in a safe and fair learning environment.
“My students are very aware of those systems and the inequities at play that happen outside the school and how they bleed over inside the school,” Gage said. “So I feel like these provisions are necessary because we tell our students they can be whatever they want to be, and these provisions ensure that we give them a system where they can be whatever they want, where they are protected, and where they are lifted.”