School Discipline & Mental Health Supports

5 minute read

Mental Health icon. Simplified figure with a medical cross on its head.Our Position

In 2021, the legislature should increase opportunities for success for public school students with disabilities by protecting gains made last session to strengthen school-based mental health supports and eliminate exclusionary disciplinary methods that harm students with disabilities and/ or mental health issues.

CTD urges the Legislature to:

CTD supports HB 785 (Allen) to support teachers in identifying when a student may require additional services, recommend consideration of those services, and ensure effective and appropriate behavior supports are provided to students in a timely manner.

CTD supports HB 2297 (Allen), which prohibits schools from using early pick ups as disciplinary measures.

CTD supports HB 2975 (Hull), which prohibits peace officers from restraining students younger than 10 years, unless they pose a serious risk of harm to themselves or another person.

CTD opposes HB 759 (Harless), which would track students in a threat assessment data for behavior incidents.

The Latest

March 25, 2021: Long form article on the harm of early pick ups: Sent home early: Lost learning in special education

February 10, 2021: New policy brief from Texans Care for Children: Addressing Learning Loss by Supporting Student Mental Health in School Settings

May 20, 2020: CTD joins Texas Coalition for Healthy Minds (TCHM) Texans Care for Children's call to TEA Commissioner Morath to put student and staff social-emotional needs "front and center" in state guidance to school districts about operating amid the coronavirus pandemic

May, 2020: CTD joins Texas Appleseed's open letter on Education Justice Responses to COVID-19

Partners

Background

Youth with intellectual/ developmental disabilities (IDD) are 3 times more likely to experience trauma and abuse than their peers without disabilities. Untreated trauma can place children at increased risk for further developmental delay. Unaddressed mental health conditions can impede academic success, impact social emotional wellbeing, and compound existing developmental delays. Children and youth with disabilities and/ or mental health challenges are often unidentified and do not have adequate access to or receive treatment. Lack of training in early childhood spaces, school mental health personnel shortages, inappropriate discipline practices, and an uncoordinated effort between schools and mental health systems all contribute to the lack of identification and mental health treatment.

As young children grow and transition into school, early trauma or unidentified/untreated mental health challenges can follow along. Right now, students are navigating an unprecedented time and toxic stress is emerging as a barrier to learning during an uncertain time. The trauma of COVID-19 has further highlighted a growing need for the Legislature to address early childhood mental health, behavioral and mental health supports in schools, and eliminating disproportionality in school discipline. In 2019, Texas took steps in the right direction by prioritizing mental health in schools, but came up short in addressing the unique needs of children and youth at the intersection of disability and mental health.

Early Childhood Mental Health

Young children respond to emotional experiences and traumatic events and process those events in very different ways than adults and older children. Consequently, identification of mental health needs and trauma in early childhood can be much more difficult than it is in adults. Early childhood spaces offer a unique opportunity to implement proactive strategies to influence healthy physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional outcomes later in life. For that reason, it is critical that early childhood caregivers, educators, and providers have the skills and accessible community resources to support families. However, in Texas these individuals often lack the awareness of or expertise to identify risk factors in order to implement preventative strategies and to determine when intervention may be needed, or how to navigate systems.

CTD will advocate to strengthen pre-service and professional development requirements so early childhood educators and caregivers are prepared to work with children with disabilities and support the mental health needs of all children. Additionally, we will urge the legislature to invest in prevention and early intervention programs to ensure the safety and healthy development of our youngest Texans.

School discipline

Students with disabilities are routinely over-represented in school discipline measures like in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsions, and placements in Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEP) and Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEP). These placements are often essentially punishments for behaviors that are a manifestation of a disability. CTD supports HB 785 (Allen) to support teachers in identifying when a student may require additional services, recommend consideration of those services, and ensure effective and appropriate behavior supports are provided to students in a timely manner.

Students with disabilities are also more likely to be subjected to informal types of discipline that go undocumented, also known as “shadow discipline.” One of the most common practices reported by families and educators is the use of early pickups—essentially undocumented suspensions. Because these removals are not documented, parents often have to respond to truancy notices for excessive unexcused absences; schools circumvent the requirement to conduct manifestation determination reviews and instead, place the student in harsh disciplinary programs without due process. According to The Hechinger Report, "for many students, a shortened school day can last for months or even years, which can have a disastrous impact as they miss out on crucial academic, social and emotional learning time."

CTD supports the prohibition of this informal practice that removes students from school and reinforces challenging behaviors. CTD supports HB 2297 (Allen), which prohibits schools from using early pick ups as disciplinary measures.

Justifiable Use of Force against Students

Over the last few legislative sessions, Texas has taken steps to prevent and address instances of abuse and neglect in schools, protecting students with disabilities who may not be able to advocate for themselves. In 2015 lawmakers passed SB 507 / HB 1033, which placed cameras in special education classrooms upon parental request. In 2019 lawmakers passed SB 712 / HB 3630, which banned certain aversive techniques on public school students.

Unfortunately, there is no enforcement mechanism in place for bad actors who are either caught on camera or acknowledge using prohibited force. CTD is advocating to revise Texas Penal Code 9.62 to better clarify that use of force on students is justified only to maintain safety in an emergency situation, and is not a form of discipline.


Further Reading

@TXDisabilities