Student discipline and violence issues encompass a broad range of conduct, ranging from isolated and minor disruption to violent behavior. Laws governing student discipline and violence may alter your responsibilities regarding instruction and identification of students with significant behavioral or mental health issues and may require you to make decisions that impact the health and safety of students and teachers. As always, if a situation arises where you feel concerned about your options and/or legal rights and responsibilities regarding student discipline and classroom safety, please call TCTA’s Legal Department at 888-879-8282.
School districts and open-enrollment charter schools must develop student codes of conduct (SCCs) in conjunction with district-level and site-based decision-making committees. SCCs operate in conjunction with the discretionary and mandatory sanctions outlined in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code. Teachers can expect administrators and the board to enforce the student code of conduct.
The law requires the SCC to specify that consideration will be given to mitigating factors (self-defense, intent, disciplinary history, etc.) when determining whether a student will be suspended, expelled or removed to a disciplinary alternative education program (DAEP) or juvenile justice alternative education program (JJAEP), regardless of whether the decision relates to a mandatory or discretionary removal. The SCC must also include provisions regarding actions that would result in a student’s removal from a school bus.
State law designates the SCC as the appropriate place for campuses to indicate if the use of progressive sanctions, and what those progressive sanctions will be, are the responsibility of the campus behavior coordinator (see below).
A 2015 law initiated by TCTA requires each campus to have a designated campus behavior coordinator. This person may be the principal or other campus administrator selected by the principal, and will be the administrator primarily responsible for maintaining student discipline. Though district or campus policy establishes specific duties, the law states that a teacher may send a student to the CBC’s office to maintain discipline. The CBC must respond by using appropriate discipline management techniques that can reasonably be expected to improve behavior before the student may be returned to class. If the student’s behavior does not improve, alternate techniques must be used. Unfortunately, some Districts of Innovation have chosen to exempt themselves from this provision. Districts are now required to post on their website the email address and dedicated phone number for the person clearly identified as the campus behavior coordinator. If the district is exempt from the requirement to designate a CBC under a DOI plan, the district must post contact information for the campus administrator designated as being responsible for student discipline.
Administrators who oversee student discipline must, at least once every three years, attend training on school discipline laws, including distinctions between a principal’s discretionary discipline management technique and a teacher’s discretionary authority to remove a disruptive student from the classroom.
State law gives teachers the means to protect a disciplined environment. Teachers can remove from class students who continuously or seriously disrupt learning. This process is a different, more formal process for addressing student discipline that is separate from sending a student to the CBC.
A principal can assign the student to a DAEP, suspend or expel the student, or put the student in another teacher’s class. A teacher can refuse a student’s return to class, subject only to the right of the campus placement review committee to place the student back in the class as the best or only alternative placement. TCTA-initiated legislation ensures that a student may not be returned to a teacher’s class without the teacher’s consent if the student had been removed by the teacher for assault causing bodily injury to the teacher. The teacher may not be coerced to consent, and the decision may not be overturned by a disciplinary review committee as with other removals.
A teacher can document any conduct by a student that does not conform to the student code of conduct and submit it to the principal. A district cannot discipline a teacher on the basis of such documentation, per a TCTA-initiated bill.
TCTA-initiated legislation provides that a student sent by a teacher to the CBC or other administrator’s office, or via a teacher removal from the classroom, is not considered to have been removed for the purposes of reporting data through PEIMS or other similar reports required by state or federal law.
Recent legislation prohibits the use of timeout that precludes a student from progressing appropriately in the curriculum and annual goals in the IEP, including physically isolating the student; or a technique or intervention that deprives a student of one or more senses or results in a denial of supervision of the student; but specifies that these provisions do not prohibit a teacher from removing a student from class under current discipline laws.
A bus driver can send a student to the principal’s office to maintain effective discipline, and the principal must respond with appropriate discipline management techniques.
The law identifies crimes for which teachers are required to remove students from class, and teachers can expect districts to enforce the mandatory placement provisions. Sec. 37.006 of the Education Code identifies crimes that require DAEP placement, including assault of a teacher. In some cases, a crime committed wholly apart from school, such as retaliation against a teacher, requires DAEP placement. Districts cannot assign a student younger than age 6 to a DAEP, unless the student brings a firearm to school. Schools cannot place elementary students with nonelementary students in DAEPs. Regardless of whether the disciplinary action is mandatory, the CBC must consider whether the student acted in self-defense, the intent or lack of intent at the time the student engaged in the conduct, the student’s disciplinary history, and whether the student has a disability that substantially impairs the student’s capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct.
Students who engage in certain elements of the offense of harassment under the Texas Penal Code must be removed from class and sent to a DAEP, subject to the consideration of mitigating factors. Under the law, the student must be removed if the student:
Similarly, new legislation provides that a student who is expelled for conduct that contains the elements of terroristic threat must be placed in a JJAEP. A student commits an offense if he/she threatens to commit any offense involving violence to any person or property with intent to cause a reaction of any type to the threat by an official or volunteer agency organized to deal with emergencies; place any person in fear of imminent serious bodily injury; prevent or interrupt the occupation or use of a building, room, place of assembly, place to which the public has access, place of employment or occupation, aircraft, automobile, or other form of conveyance or other public place; cause impairment or interruption of public communications, public transportation, public water, gas or power supply or other public service; place the public or a substantial group of the public in fear of serious bodily injury; or influence the conduct or activities of a branch or agency of the federal government, the state, or a political subdivision of the state.
The law requires DAEPs to provide for students’ educational and behavioral needs, and DAEPs’ educational mission is to enable students to perform at grade level. The commissioner of education, as required by law, adopted rules for the annual evaluation of DAEPs. Districts must administer a pre- and post-assessment of academic growth for students placed in DAEPs for 90 school days or longer. The instrument must be administered on the student’s initial placement and on the date of departure, or as near that date as possible. Procedures for administering the pre- and post-assessments must be developed and implemented in accordance with district policy.
Chapter 37 specifies when districts are required or allowed to expel students who engage in very serious crimes, such as aggravated assault, sexual assault, or drug and alcohol offenses.
In most counties of more than 125,000 people, districts must educate expelled students in a JJAEP. Education of expelled students younger than age 10 must occur in a DAEP. If a student transfers, the new district may continue the expulsion.
A district can expel a student from a DAEP if he/she is documented to have engaged in serious misbehavior, as defined by law, while in the DAEP despite documented behavioral interventions. “Serious misbehavior” is defined as deliberate, violent behavior that poses a direct threat to the health or safety of others, extortion, conduct that constitutes coercion, public lewdness, indecent exposure, criminal mischief as defined by the Penal Code, personal hazing, or harassment of a student or district employee.
Districts and teachers are required to provide alternative means of receiving coursework in foundation courses to a student who has been placed in in-school or out-of-school suspension. The district must provide at least one option that does not require internet access.
State law prohibits placing a student under grade 3 in out-of-school suspension unless the student engages in certain serious behaviors listed in the Education Code. School districts and charter schools, in consultation with the CBC, may develop and implement a program that provides a disciplinary alternative for students under grade 3 whose behavior makes them eligible for out-of-school suspension according to the student code of conduct. The program must: be age-appropriate and research-based; provide models for positive behavior; promote a positive school environment; provide an alternative disciplinary course of action that does not rely on the use of in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, or placement in a DAEP to manage student behavior; and provide behavior management strategies including positive behavior intervention/support, trauma-informed practices, social and emotional learning, any necessary referrals for services, and restorative practices.
The law prohibits a district or charter school from placing a homeless student in out-of-school suspension except in the case of conduct including weapons, violence or drugs/alcohol on school property or during a school-related activity. The campus behavior coordinator can coordinate with the district’s homeless education liaison to identify appropriate alternatives.
Pursuant to TCTA-initiated legislation, a student who is a registered sex offender must be placed in a DAEP or JJAEP for at least one semester. The placement is reviewed after one semester and annually thereafter by a committee that includes a teacher from the school the student would attend, the student’s parole/probation officer (if none, then a representative of a local juvenile probation department), an instructor from the AEP, a school district designee and a school counselor.
If a student transfers to a different district during the required alternative placement period, the new district may require the student to complete an additional semester without reviewing the placement or may consider the time previously spent in a DAEP. The student’s placement in the AEP continues until it is determined that placement in the regular classroom is not a threat to students or teachers, will not disrupt the educational process, and is not contrary to students’ best interests.
Placement of a student receiving special education services must be reviewed by the ARD committee, which may request that the district convene a placement committee as described above to assist the ARD committee. If the student is not under court supervision, the district may place the student in a regular classroom, unless it is determined that such a placement is a threat to students or the teacher, will disrupt the educational process, or is otherwise not in students’ best interests.
“School marshals,” whose identities are kept confidential, are school employees with special training who may exercise the authority given to peace officers, including making arrests, subject to regulations adopted by the school board or charter school governing authority. They may act only as necessary to prevent or abate an offense that threatens serious bodily injury or death to persons on school premises. Marshals must be appointed by a school district’s board of trustees or the governing body of an open-enrollment charter school, but there is no limit on the number of school marshals per student.
The marshal may carry a handgun on school premises under certain regulations. If the marshal’s primary duty involves regular contact with students, the marshal may not carry the weapon but may keep it in a locked and secured safe within reach. The gun may be loaded only with “frangible” ammunition that disintegrates on impact. The gun may be accessed only under circumstances justifying the use of deadly force. The Commission on Law Enforcement operates a training program available to any school employee who holds a concealed handgun license, and administers a psychological exam to determine fitness to carry out the duties of a school marshal.
A school district peace officer, law enforcement officer or school resource officer may not issue a citation to a child who is alleged to have committed a school offense (an offense committed by a child enrolled in a public school on property under the control and jurisdiction of a school district) that is a class C misdemeanor, other than a traffic offense. However, the school may file a complaint against the child with a criminal court if the district has developed a system of graduated sanctions that the child has failed to comply with or complete, or if the school district has not elected to adopt a system of graduated sanctions.
Educators have the right to be notified about students under their supervision who have certain types of disciplinary or criminal history (see required notice to educators).
TCTA-initiated legislation clarifies that school district or open-enrollment charter school employees may report any crime they witnessed at school to any officer with the authority to investigate it. Districts and charters cannot adopt a policy restricting this right or requiring employees to report only to certain people or officers.