The Killeen Independent School District issued 571 suspensions involving 276 prekindergarten through second-grade students during the 2017-2018 school year, according to district officials.
This number seems at odds with anti-suspension legislation that went into effect in 2017 aimed at banning out-of-school suspensions for this age group except in extreme circumstances, such as a child bringing a gun to school, committing a violent offense, or being involved with drugs or alcohol.
KISD district officials said suggesting that the district is violating the law is not appropriate based on one overall number.
“Each case is a specific incident with specific circumstances regarding a specific student,” said Chief Communications Officer Terry Abbott. “A review of individual cases is being conducted.”
The rate of suspensions in KISD last school year was also significantly higher than other school districts in Central Texas, according to a report Monday in the Austin American Statesman.
That report lists Pflugerville Independent School District as having the second highest rate of suspensions with only 26 issued in the 2017-2018, making the KISD rate nearly 22 times higher.
Abbott said KISD issued 91 out-of-school suspensions involving physical or violent acts and those cases “cannot be compared to any such events in other school districts because each is an individual case involving an individual student and a specific set of circumstances unique to that case.”
State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, who wrote the anti-suspension legislation, called KISD’s 571 suspensions a “staggering number.”
“By their own explanations, they’re saying there were 460-some-odd violations of state law that occurred in their district last year. By their own explanation, these suspensions don’t fall within the law’s exceptions and I think that certainly bears explanation,” Johnson told the Statesman.
Abbott cited possible miscoding as being potentially to blame for the large number of suspensions documented within KISD, but said district officials will continue to review each case to make further determinations regarding the validity of the coding originally used.
“In addition to these potential factors in our overall number of suspensions, we also certainly have a unique, highly mobile student body that is unlike any other in Texas and that makes comparisons with other districts very difficult to accurately draw,” Abbott said.
Copperas Cove Independent School District suspension numbers were not available at press time.
A study by one nonprofit organization, Texans Care for Children, released in March, also cited KISD as having one of the highest rates of suspension in the state.
According to the study, KISD alone accounted for 31 percent of the 4,691 prekindergarten suspensions statewide, with 1,460 pre-K suspensions documented in the 2015-2016 school year.
KISD officials disputed these numbers as being inaccurate.
The Texans Care for Children study said out-of-school suspensions at the pre-K to second-grade level may be harmful to young students in many ways, including denying valuable classroom learning time.
Such suspensions are “a sign that a district, campus, and/or classroom is not implementing positive behavioral strategies and creating supportive school climates,” according to the group.
The recommendations in the study coincided with measures from the anti-suspension legislation, House Bill 674, passed by Texas lawmakers last year.
In addition to banning suspensions at lower grade levels except in extreme cases, the legislation specified that districts should develop alternative disciplinary courses of action, such as positive behavioral intervention and support, and refrain from relying on the use of suspensions to manage student behavior.
Abbott said district officials will continue to work with school leaders to ensure student disciplinary cases are handled appropriately to protect the rights of students as well as the safety of teachers and staff.
“District administrators continue to review the processes and procedures used in such cases as part of the KISD’s daily commitment to continuous improvement of all district functions,” he said.