Sus­pen­sion pro­ce­dures

Pro­po­nents say keep­ing stu­dents out of classes is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - FRONT PAGE - BY LOUIS LLOVIO LLLovio@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6348 Twit­ter: @LouisLLovio

Bills would change schools pol­icy.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly could change how school sus­pen­sions are han­dled if an ef­fort passes that would as­sure stu­dents are pun­ished with­out los­ing too much school time be­cause of sus­pen­sions.

The bills — six in all — would cut the max­i­mum length of a sus­pen­sion, make it so stu­dents couldn’t re­ceive long-term sus­pen­sions or ex­pul­sions for dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior and pro­hibit sus­pen­sions or ex­pul­sions for pre-K through fifth-grade stu­dents.

“These bills are as sim­ple as they sound,” said Del. Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, who spon­sored the leg­is­la­tion in the House of Del­e­gates.

“I spent a long time as a teacher in a class­room. There is al­most noth­ing good that hap­pens in terms of a child’s devel­op­ment and the in­struc­tion they re­ceive when they are sus­pended or ex­pelled from school.”

The leg­is­la­tion, if ap­proved, is de­signed to trans­form how dis­ci­pline is han­dled at schools. The idea is that rather than sus­pend or ex­pel a stu­dent, schools can ad­dress and, hope­fully, be­gin work­ing to­ward solv­ing the is­sues that led the stu­dent to have prob­lems in the first place.

Send­ing stu­dents home and keep­ing them out of the struc­tured en­vi­ron­ment of school only serves to ex­ac­er­bate prob­lems by mak­ing kids fall farther be­hind, pro­po­nents say. It also in­creases the chances a stu­dent will drop out of school or land in the ju­ve­nile jus­tice sys­tem. The bills are:

House Bill 1534/Se­nate Bill 995 would re­duce the max­i­mum length of a long-term sus­pen­sion from 364 cal­en­dar days to 45 school days. It would also keep long-term sus­pen­sions from ex­tend­ing be­yond the cur­rent grad­ing pe­riod un­less ag­gra­vat­ing cir­cum­stances ex­ist or from ex­tend­ing be­yond the cur­rent school year.

House Bill 1535/Se­nate Bill 996 would pro­hibit schools from sus­pend­ing or ex­pelling stu­dents solely for dis­rup­tive be­hav­ior un­less the be­hav­ior in­volves in­ten­tional phys­i­cal in­jury or is a cred­i­ble threat of phys­i­cal in­jury to an­other per­son.

House Bill 1536/Se­nate Bill 997 would pro­hibit stu­dents in preschool through fifth grade from be­ing sus­pended or ex­pelled ex­cept for drug of­fenses, firearm of­fenses or cer­tain crim­i­nal acts.

Ad­vo­cates also are sup­port­ing bud­get lan­guage that would en­cour­age the use of restora­tive prac­tices as an al­ter­na­tive to sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions.

“If there are be­hav­ior is­sues, they need to be ad­dressed be­tween the schools and the fam­i­lies,” Bell said.

“That cor­rec­tion needs to be made, and the par­ent needs to be in­volved, rather than just send­ing these kids back home where they may be unat­tended, where they may find them­selves with noth­ing but idle time on their hands. I just don’t think that’s good pol­icy. It’s coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to ev­ery­thing we want to do in ed­u­ca­tion.”

The leg­is­la­tion is a re­sponse to a re­port re­leased last year by the JustChil­dren Pro­gram of the Le­gal Aid Jus­tice Cen­ter.

The group, which says sus­pen­sion rates stopped de­clin­ing af­ter four years of progress, has been urg­ing ed­u­ca­tion of­fi­cials statewide and lo­cally to change prac­tices and im­ple­ment poli­cies that will cut down on the num­ber of stu­dents sent out of schools.

The re­port, ti­tled “Sus­pended Progress,” found that Vir­ginia school dis­tricts, in­clud­ing sev­eral in metro Richmond, are push­ing stu­dents out of school through “wide­spread, dis­crim­i­na­tory overuse of sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions.”

The re­port found that in the 2014-15 school year, state schools is­sued 123,107 short­term sus­pen­sions to 68,802 stu­dents, 2,922 long-term sus­pen­sions to 2,819 stu­dents and 388 ex­pul­sions.

JustChil­dren is ex­pected to re­lease up­dated fig­ures later this year.

One-fifth of those sus­pen­sions were is­sued to pre-kinder­garten and el­e­men­tary school stu­dents. And more than 58 per­cent of all out-of-school sus­pen­sions were is­sued for 11 of­fenses, in­clud­ing “class­room or cam­pus dis­rup­tion,” “de­fi­ance of au­thor­ity/in­sub­or­di­na­tion,” “dis­re­spect/walk­ing away” or “dis­rup­tive demon­stra­tions.”

The re­port found that Peters­burg and Richmond were among 18 Vir­ginia school dis­tricts with the high­est rates of short-term sus­pen­sions (10 days or fewer) in the past five school years.

Richmond handed out short­term sus­pen­sions to 13 per­cent of its stu­dents, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. That was down from 16 per­cent the pre­vi­ous school year and a high of 17 per­cent for the 2010-11 school year.

Peters­burg handed out short­term sus­pen­sions to 20 per­cent of its stu­dents, down from 21 per­cent the pre­vi­ous school year.

As for ex­pul­sions, Richmond and Hen­rico County were among the only seven school dis­tricts with at least 10 ex­pul­sions each of the past five years. The oth­ers were the coun­ties of Pitt­syl­va­nia and Prince Wil­liam and the cities of New­port News, Ch­e­sa­peake and Danville.

Richmond ex­pelled 178 stu­dents over the five years, and Hen­rico ex­pelled 181.

“Our sup­port for these bills (isn’t) about tak­ing away op­tions that schools have,” said Amy L. Woolard, an at­tor­ney and pol­icy co­or­di­na­tor for JustChil­dren.

“We want to make sure that we aren’t sug­gest­ing that there aren’t con­se­quences or there isn’t ac­count­abil­ity for mis­be­hav­ior. But I think that we want to do it the smart way.

“We want to fig­ure out a pro­por­tional re­sponse that ac­tu­ally gets at the root of the prob­lem be­cause this is the time to do it. This is when kids are learn­ing to be out in the world.”

Bell

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