Dallas, Texas, Schools Using Recovery Dollars to Reduce Student Suspensions

As an alternative to in- or out-of-school suspensions, Dallas Independent School District opened what it calls Reset Centers in August 2021 at 60 of the district’s comprehensive middle and high schools. These sites leverage social and emotional learning alongside restorative practices to help students improve self-awareness and responsible decision-making. The Reset Centers provide students time to de-escalate stressful situations, have conversations with trained staff about their behaviors, and responsibly determine appropriate next steps. The district saw a decrease from 4,800 out-of-school suspensions and 1,100 in-school suspensions in the 2020-2021 school year to 1,168 referrals to Reset Centers in the 2021-2022 school year. The district implemented additional changes to support the rethinking around suspensions, including setting district-wide goals to strengthen tiered student behavior supports, improving classroom management teacher skills, and increasing data collection for better decision-making about individualized responses to student conduct needs.

We are spotlighting this because Dallas ISD focused on (A) an innovative approach to school discipline that centers students’ individual needs within a context, (B) a set of comprehensive practices to help ensure necessary follow-up from student conduct, and (C) data to identify how it is working and how it can be improved.

Reviewer Analysis

The Rural Alliance

We like the individual approach to student discipline and the data to identify what is working and/or changes needed.

Leslie Villegas

Parents of English learners are particularly concerned about their kids’ mental health needs and this investment takes a restorative approach to discipline needs which is what students need at a time when they’ve already missed a lot of instructional time. That being said, in order for this investment to help English learners these centers must be staffed with linguistically and culturally appropriate support staff. Texas has the second largest English learner population in the country, therefore a thumbs up for this policy is conditional on ensuring these centers are adequately prepared for these students.

EdAllies

This idea has potential to be meaningful and impactful toward changing behavioral trajectories so long as the systems are being held to high standards of outcome and not serving as de facto suspensions/warehousing of students. Over time, it will be critical to collect and analyze data to determine course corrections on what may not be working as intended.

Jocelyn Pickford

This program, focused on an area of great need through pandemic recovery, has outcomes data to speak for its impact.

TNTP

Reducing suspensions is essential to ensuring that all students have access to classroom time spent receiving strong instruction in grade-level assignments. This is all the more important because we know that in- and out-of-school suspensions disproportionately impact students of color, so providing a successful alternative presents a promising path towards more equitable school outcomes. Dallas’s approach sets a strong example for other districts looking to reform their school discipline policies and find alternatives to suspension.

New Leaders

Investing funds in programs that center student needs and work to keep students in school is encouraging. Focusing on social emotional learning, self-awareness, and restorative justice is also a positive use of funds. What structures are in place for ongoing communication and accountability? How does the program support student experiences that are culturally inclusive and identify affirming? What learning from the Reset Centers can be applied more broadly within the school community?

The Bush Center

This is an interesting approach; it requires a commitment to using data to measure effectiveness and being public about those outcomes.

The Data Quality Campaign

It is promising that the district’s approach to reducing suspensions includes measurement over time and data collection and use to meet students’ needs with interventions based in social and emotional learning.

Southern Regional Education Board

This is innovative and addresses a need nationwide. Their initial data is excellent.

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