Essential knowledge for classroom management
Serious student discipline problems in Texas schools are subject to a detailed statutory process designed to maintain the safety and order of campuses and classrooms. In addition, the law requires each district to develop a local student code of conduct that establishes, consistent with the statutory disciplinary requirements, both what student conduct is subject to discipline and what the specific consequence or range of possible consequences will be.
Many common questions about student discipline are answered below. Read your school's student code of conduct for local rules. Most of the state law governing discipline can be found in the Safe Schools Act (Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code),though other areas of the law could be important in specific cases.
Also, for information related to discipline and special education students, please read Special Education and Section 504.
Local school boards must adopt student codes of conduct that specify the circumstances under which students can be removed to disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEPs), suspended, or expelled. The code of conduct cannot violate the disciplinary provisions in the Texas Education Code but can establish rules where the code itself is either silent or allows for local discretion.
Each school district’s code of conduct must be posted and prominently displayed on every campus within a district or made available for review at the principal’s office.
The Texas Education Code requires that the code of conduct:
- Specify when students may be removed from class or campus, consistent with legal requirements.
- Specify when a student can or must be removed to a disciplinary alternative education program.
- Outline when a student may be suspended or expelled.
- Specify whether consideration will be given to the student’s intent, prior disciplinary history, or disability, or whether the action was self-defense.
- Provide guidelines as to the length of the student’s removal, suspension, or expulsion.
- Provide appropriate options for managing student behavior.
The Texas Education Code provides that a teacher can temporarily remove a student to the principal’s office to maintain effective classroom discipline. The Texas Education Code now requires that each campus designate a “campus behavior coordinator” (CBC) who is “primarily responsible for maintaining student discipline.” Many districts have, however, opted out of this law as a part of their “district of innovation” plan.
The Code also provides that a teacher can remove a student from class and initially refuse to consent to the student’s return if the teacher can establish that the student has repeatedly or seriously interfered with either the teacher’s ability to communicate or other students’ ability to learn. The interference can potentially be a pattern of incidents or one very serious incident—the key is showing the student’s actions have interfered with the educational process.
The Education Code removal provisions apply to disruption caused by a student. The law does not create a right for a teacher to remove a student because the students’ parents are disruptive.
The Code provides a list of student misconduct that either allows or requires the student be removed from the student’s normal educational placement and placed in a disciplinary alternative educational placement (DAEP).
Students may be suspended for no more than three school days at a time. Students must be expelled for a certain set of serious offenses (see list below). Additionally, students may be expelled for an alternate set of offenses occurring at any campus or at any school-sponsored event in the state. These offenses include sale of illegal substances, false alarm, persistent serious misbehavior while assigned to a DAEP, or terroristic threat.
Students may be expelled for the following offenses committed against other students whether the offenses occurred on or off campus: aggravated assault, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, aggravated robbery, murder, or criminal intent to commit murder. Local guidelines determine the length of the expulsion.
Students also may be expelled for assault resulting in bodily injury against a school district employee or a volunteer; use, possession, sale, or delivery of illegal drugs or alcohol; deadly conduct; or possession of a firearm if the activity occurred within 300 feet of school property.
When a student expelled from a previous district enrolls in a new district, the new district may continue the expulsion, place the student in a DAEP, or allow the student to attend regular classes.
Students who present a serious threat can be removed immediately to a DAEP or be expelled.
Offenses that require mandatory expulsionOn-campus conduct
- Firearm and weapons offenses
- Aggravated assault, sexual assault, arson, murder, attempted murder, indecency with a child, or aggravated kidnapping
- Felony offenses involving illegal drugs or alcohol
- Aggravated robbery
- Criminally negligent homicide
- Any of the above committed in retaliation against a school employee, on or off campus
- Certain criminal activity in retaliation against a school employee or volunteer
In most cases, a student can be returned to a teacher’s class, even if the teacher has not consented to the return. There are exceptions to this general rule, however:
- If a teacher made a mandatory removal to a DAEP due to an aggravated assault, sexual assault, or aggravated sexual assault occurring on campus or at a school-sponsored event, the student may not be returned to the teacher’s class without that teacher’s consent.
- If a student is removed for assaulting the teacher resulting in bodily injury, the student may not be returned to the teacher's class without the teacher's consent.
- If a student is in the juvenile justice system for an act that occurred in class, the student may not be ordered back to the teacher’s class in which the offense occurred without that teacher’s consent.
- If a teacher removes a student for seriously or persistent disruptive behavior, and the teacher refuses consent for the student to return to class, the student may be returned to that teacher’s class only if the campus placement review committee overrides the teacher’s lack of consent, determining that the prior placement is the best or only available alternative.
All of the discipline laws apply to all students regardless of age, with two exceptions:
- Students younger than 10 years old cannot be expelled from school except for carrying a firearm to school. For other expellable offenses, students younger than 10 must be removed to a DAEP but should not be mixed with non-elementary students.
- DAEP placements must be available for elementary school students. However, students younger than 6 years old cannot be removed to an off-campus DAEP but must receive on-campus consequences, except in cases of carrying a firearm to school. Even in this case, the student may not be expelled.
Law enforcement reports to school districts
Law enforcement officials must notify a school district when:
- A student is arrested or detained for most felony criminal offenses;
- When a student is convicted or judged delinquent in the juvenile justice system for those same offenses; or
- When a student receives a deferred prosecution or deferred adjudication order.
When a student under the jurisdiction of a parole or probation office enrolls in a new district, the new district must be notified.
Principals’ reports to law enforcement officials
Any principal who has reasonable grounds to believe a serious crime (as specified in Chapter 37 of the Texas Education Code) has occurred on campus or at a school-sponsored event or has knowledge of any other criminal conduct for which a student may be expelled must report that information to the district police department, if available, and to local law enforcement officials.
School officials’ reports to employees
- School districts must inform teachers if they are to have regular contact through classroom assignments with students who have engaged in expellable offenses or have engaged in conduct constituting unlawful restraint, indecent exposure, assault, deadly conduct, terroristic threat, or organized criminal activity.
- Superintendents who receive required notification from law enforcement authorities must promptly notify all instructional and support personnel who supervise the student(s) named in the report.
- Principals who make required notifications to law enforcement authorities must promptly notify all instructional and support personnel who supervise the student(s) named in the report.
- School districts must notify any educator responsible for providing instruction to a student when the student is placed in a DAEP for misconduct.
- School districts must notify any educator responsible for providing instruction to a transfer student if the student was placed in the former school district's DAEP at the time of the transfer.
- The notified educators must keep the information confidential.
What is corporal punishment?
Corporal punishment generally means any disciplinary action that affects the body (corpus = body). When most people think of corporal punishment, they think of “swats” administered by an administrator or coach. The Texas Education Code has a specific definition of corporal punishment:
[Corporal punishment is defined as] the deliberate infliction of physical pain by hitting, paddling, spanking, slapping, or any other physical force used as a means of discipline. The term does not include:
- physical pain caused by reasonable physical activities associated with athletic training, competition, or physical education; or
- the use of restraint as authorized under Section 37.0021. [relating to reasonable and necessary restraint of special education students]
What does Texas law say about corporal punishment?
The Texas Education Code provides that each school district shall determine whether to allow corporal punishment. A local district allowing corporal punishment must allow a parent or legal guardian to “opt out” of the policy by providing a written and signed statement prohibiting the use of corporal punishment on their child.
All educators must know and follow their local district’s corporal punishment policy. In addition to negative employment consequences that can result from a violation of the policy, an educator can find themselves sued without the protections normally provided. Educators can be legally and financially liable if they have violated their local corporal punishment policy.
Prohibited Aversive Discipline Techniques
Certain specific “aversive discipline techniques” defined in 37.0023 of the Texas Education Code as “a technique or intervention that is intended to reduce the likelihood of behavior reoccurring by inflicting on a student significant physical or emotional pain or discomfort” are prohibited.
Many of the listed techniques, such as electric shocks or impairing a student’s breathing or circulation are obviously improper. But there are a number of techniques that educators need to be aware are also prohibited as they are not so obviously wrong. For example, the list prohibits anything that “inhibits a student’s ability to speak.” This codifies what should be understood that in no situation should an educator put tape over a student’s mouth, even in “fun.” The list also prohibits withholding food. Elementary school teachers need to rethink the common consequence of a student not getting their afternoon snack because of morning misbehavior. Finally, the list includes denial of access to the restroom. Teachers will likely have campus or class rules about when students may be excused to the restroom. These rules can still be applied, but teachers need to be sure that if they are going to tell a student they cannot be excused, that they have a rule they can point to and that they are not denying the student’s request as a punishment.
Published/reviewed: February 12, 2021
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.