Bill would end sus­pend­ing youngest stu­dents

The Columbus Dispatch - - Metro&state - By Jim Siegel

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.”

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