Bill would end suspending youngest students
Shocked by data showing that Ohio schools suspended approximately 34,000 children from pre-kindergarten through third grade last year, a bipartisan group of legislators wants to largely put an end to the punishment for the state’s youngest students.
“We would never consider punishing a child because they didn’t know how to count or identify their colors,” said Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering. “But we need to recognize the lack of social and emotional skills is something we should be correcting, not punishing.”
And that 34,000 figure was actually a reduction from 36,000 suspensions during the 2015-16 school year.
Lehner, chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, and Sens. Gayle Manning, R-North
Ridgeville, a retired teacher, and Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, a retired police officer, propose legislation that within four school years would end all out-ofschool suspensions for students in third grade or younger, unless the behavior involves threats or violence, drugs or real weapons.
Pointing to an achievement gap in Ohio that consistently shows that poor district test scores strongly correlate to concentrations of poverty, Lehner said a key contributor is the amount of time that students spend out of the classroom.
The Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio reported that in 201516, black students were 6.4 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and poor students were 6 times more likely.
“Already academically behind, suspensions only push them further and further behind and leave them feeling unwelcomed in the classroom,” Lehner said. “School, which could become a refuge from a chaotic home life, instead becomes an additional source of stress.”
Under the proposal, out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent behavior would be banned for those in pre-kindergarten through third grade. Emergency removals could still be used, but only for one day out of school, not three days, as is common today, Lehner said.
The bill also would require Ohio universities to provide better training for future teachers to meet the behavioral challenges of some students.
Lehner also is hopeful that the bill would provide up to $3 million to help schools with additional training for current teachers.
The legislation would not affect inschool suspensions.
Tom Ash, director of government relations with the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said the group has not yet taken a position, but he said, “I would concur that if we have more than 30,000 students suspended, that is cause for significant concern because those kids obviously aren’t sitting in a classroom.”
Asked what schools need from the state on the issue, Ash said: “Just tell us exactly what you want us to do, but don’t impose additional costs on us.”
Ten years ago, Cincinnati Public Schools ended expulsions and out-of-school suspensions. “Our goal is to make sure our students stay in school,” Superintendent Laura Mitchell said.
Students in grades 4 through 12 with behavioral issues are sent to a separate site, where they continue learning and get counseling, with the goal of transitioning back into the regular classroom. Younger students stay in their own schools.
“This has been very successful in terms of keeping our kids in school,” Mitchell said, praising Lehner’s bill.
The bill also would eliminate suspensions for students who have versions of guns or knives that are not harmful — for example, plastic toys.
“Should we be eliminating all suspensions? Probably, yes,” Lehner said. “We’re starting with what is reasonable, and in the time frame where suspensions are most harmful.”