A Message to the Community from Dr. Charles Dupre, Superintendent of Schools
Data with a Soul: A Crucial Conversation about Truancy and Student Discipline
Recently, you may have read a couple of pieces in the Houston Chronicle regarding Fort Bend ISD and our efforts to enforce the state’s truancy laws, including the most recent article that was published in the March 19 edition.
This is a critical issue that we will be discussing with the community in the near future. While it would be inappropriate for the District to comment on pending legislation while it is in the hands of the legislature, I think it is important that the community understand what Fort Bend ISD is doing to prevent truancy and abide by the state’s current compulsory attendance laws, as well as what we are doing to ensure that our disciplinary policies are being applied in a manner that is fair and consistent.
The following editorial is being shared with local publications today. You can also expect to hear more about our efforts to engage with our parents in the coming weeks, and I hope you will participate in these important discussions. I appreciate your active participation in your child’s education – and the community collaboration that makes Fort Bend ISD one of the best in the state.
Fort Bend ISD’s rich cultural diversity is a source of pride and a model for other Districts in Texas. Every day, our teachers, administrators, and students work hard to inspire and equip our students with the tools to succeed in life. As superintendent, I am proud of our efforts to educate the leaders of tomorrow. I am also aware of the educational challenges facing our district and our state.
As an educator and African-American male with two sons, I share concerns about the number of African-American and Hispanic students who are subject to disciplinary actions in Fort Bend ISD and across the state. I am equally concerned about the number of these students who receive truancy complaints. Students cannot learn if they are not at school, if they are consistently late to school, or if they are removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.
Because equitable treatment is important to me, immediately after joining Fort Bend ISD nearly two years ago, I initiated a comprehensive review of the District’s disciplinary policies, procedures, and practices, including our response to truancy. I am proud to say that our administration has taken steps to ensure that all students are disciplined in a fair and consistent manner.
In the 2013-2014 school year, we established the Department of Student Affairs to make sure student-related policies are applied consistently across our District. We are already seeing positive results. Despite growing by almost 400 students at the high-school level, the incidents of disciplinary action removing students from the classroom for in-school or out-of-school suspensions decreased by 24% during the fall of 2014 as compared to the fall of 2013. Several of our secondary campuses have seen a significant decrease in the number of disciplinary actions removing African-American students from the classroom.
We are also training staff in a restorative discipline model designed to provide students with problem-solving skills that will enable them to self-regulate their own behavior. Restorative discipline includes collaboration between students, parents, and school staff to create a positive environment by focusing on students’ needs and causes of behavior, not just dispensing consequences for misbehavior.
It should be noted while some student disciplinary actions are subject to the discretion of campus and district administrators, other student disciplinary actions are mandatory, such as mandatory DAEP (District Alternative Education Program) for any offense that is punishable as a felony. Other offenses are subject to mandatory expulsion, such as a student bringing a firearm to school or committing crimes such as aggravated assault or aggravated sexual assault.
Truancy enforcement is not discretionary. We are obligated to abide by our state’s compulsory school attendance laws. Our District’s truancy prevention efforts attempt to provide support and accountability for students and their families. Our systems are working. Since the implementation of an automated truancy system in 2007, truancy warning letters and valid truancy complaints dropped by 58 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Our teachers and students must have a safe and secure learning environment, and our students must be in the classroom. We will treat all of our students in a fair and transparent manner and provide them equal access to a great education, but we can’t do it alone. Encouraging student attendance and positive behavior at school includes the active engagement of parents and families, as well as the greater community.
It is important for us to discuss the data regarding the critical issues of student discipline and truancy, but we cannot forget that each data point represents a student with a name and a story. That is why we will be looking to implement restorative discipline and identifying new ways to more effectively engage parents and the FBISD community as we attempt to learn and respond to each story. Details about community meetings to discuss these important topics will be shared soon. Together, we will strive to deliver on our promise to every FBISD student: to inspire and equip them to pursue futures beyond their imagination.
Dr. Charles E. Dupre
Fort Bend ISD Superintendent of Schools