San Antonio/ Politics & Govt
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Published on May 26, 2024
San Antonio School Districts Accused of Illegally Suspending Homeless Students Despite State BanSource: Unsplash/ Sam Balye

In San Antonio, Texas, a stark breach of state law has been uncovered, with several school districts meting out suspensions to homeless students for minor infractions, flouting a 2019 statute that bans such disciplinary actions. The San Antonio Report highlighted this continuing issue despite legislations meant to shield the already vulnerable homeless student population from being removed from the educational environment for non-severe offenses.

The San Antonio Independent School District admitted to the oversight in a statement, acknowledging instances where alternative disciplinary actions should have been exercised. Laura Short, a spokeswoman for the SAISD, said, "We have found examples where students who were experiencing homelessness should have received alternative disciplinary actions for infractions such as fighting and persistent misbehavior." The district has vowed to correct course, including re-training principals and hearing officers upcoming summer.

However, the larger Northside Independent School District held a slightly different stance. Barry Perez, a spokesperson for NISD, said suspensions are sometimes necessary for the greater safety and security of the campus, "If a campus feels as though that suspension is warranted because it’s going to lead to greater safety and security and order on that campus, then I think that’s a decision that they have to make." He acknowledged the possibility for error and emphasized ongoing training to ensure law compliance.

While district officials strive to revise training practices and categorize infractions accurately, state-level data tracked by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) shows thousands of students have been met with what appears to be illegal suspensions in the past five years. The TEA, however, cites data tracking issues that complicate pinpointing which districts are in breach of regulations. Even so, Lyric Wardlow, a former student who accrued more than 30 suspensions during her education due to homelessness-related challenges, told the San Antonio Report, "I wasn’t really a bad kid necessarily. But I did have a lot of stuff going on, considering the fact that I was living in a shelter."

Despite the legislative intent to protect homeless students' education and welfare, TEA spokesperson Jake Kobersky stated that a thorough review of suspension data is underway, which could prompt state oversight where necessary. Meanwhile, the agency faces criticism for lackluster enforcement and training around the provisions of the law. State Rep. Eugene Wu remarked on the need for legislative action in 2025 to "force compliance," signaling a broader issue of law interpretation and application within school districts.

School districts, such as North East Independent School District, have implemented training and checks to ensure adherence to the law, with Tyler Shoesmith, the executive director of the NEISD Office of Pupil Personnel Services, attributing rare improper suspensions to administrative coding errors or system safeguards being bypassed. In contrast, East Central ISD has all but eradicated wrongful suspensions through comprehensive training and support according to spokesperson Brandon Oliver.

The dilemma reflects a systemic gap, with nonprofits in education advocating for greater involvement and support for homeless students. Nikisha Baker, the president and CEO of SAMMinistries, indicated that this was a call to action for community partners to address these gaps, citing future workforce concerns. Across San Antonio districts, the consensus is clear — more must be done to ensure that when the most vulnerable among us are disciplined, it is done within the law's bounds, prioritizing their safety and continuity of education.