Homeless student, Houston

New Report Shows Houston School District Suspended Homeless Students Despite State Ban

A Houston Independent School District report shows homeless students were suspended for more than 100 days during the 2022–2023 school year. However, the state banned that practice years ago, the Houston Chronicle reports.

In 2019, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 692, amending the Texas Education Code, stating that districts are not to suspend homeless students unless they violate specific laws involving weapons, violent behavior, drugs, or alcohol. In that case, out-of-school suspensions are limited to a maximum of three days in a row. According to the outlet, HISD allegedly disregarded the law and continued suspending homeless students in both the 2021–22 and 2022–23 school years.

While the report was released to the public in September 2023, it doesn’t clarify what the discretionary suspensions were for or define the meaning of “discretionary out-of-school suspensions.”

The suspensions amount to 2,000 missed school days. To prevent this, the report, submitted by the executive director of Assessment, Accountability, and Compliance, Allison Matney, instructed schools to investigate the causes of the suspensions “…and resolve not to repeat the same actions in the future,” according to Houston Public Media.

During the 2022–23 school year, HISD reported 7,232 homeless students—close to 4% of its student body. Director of Youth Justice for Texas Appleseed Brett Merfish says that homelessness is already traumatic for students, and many have nowhere to go when they face suspension. Being out of school can increase negative educational outcomes.

“If those suspensions are not within the exceptions outlined in the law, then those should not be happening,” Merfish said.

“We need to do better and figure out, with the schools, what is happening in those instances and come up with a solution because the point of this law is to stop out-of-school-suspensions that don’t have to happen or could be handled differently for youth who are experiencing homelessness.”

Staggering numbers were highlighted in the report, including Black students having the highest percentage of missed school days because of out-of-school suspensions. Director of Public Policy for the Texas Network of Youth Services Lauren Rose says she was disappointed in the report and feels there are other solutions to assist homeless students besides suspension. She encourages the state to address classroom behavior issues with positive behavior interventions and support.