Sunday, January 22, 2017

VSBA Action Alert

VSBA Action Alert

There are 6 bills (3 Senate and 3 House) that will severely limit a school division’s ability to suspend students.  VSBA opposes these bills.  Below are specific talking points on each of these bills.  These bills are currently before the Senate Education and Health Committee and the House Education Committee.  When you meet with your legislators this week in Richmond, please ask them to oppose all of these bills. 


45 Day Long-Term Suspension – SB995(Stanley)/HB1534 (R.P. Bell) - This bill limits a long-term suspension to a maximum of 45 days.  In addition, this bill prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the end of the current grading period, unless aggravating circumstances exist.  In no case can a long-term suspension extend beyond the end of the current school year. 
  • In 2014-2015, there were 1,279,867 students enrolled in public schools.  According to the proponent’s own data, only 2,819 of those students received long-term suspensions.  Thus, only two-tenths of one percent (0.22%) of students received a long-term suspension. 
  • These statistics demonstrate that school divisions are already appropriately limiting the use of long-term suspensions to the most egregious cases. 
  • Under this bill, regardless of the severity of the offense (even a serious or violent criminal offense ), a long-term suspension could not last more than 45 days.  The way the bill is currently drafted, it appears that not even aggravating circumstances would justify extending a suspension beyond 45 days. 
  • A student could not be long-term suspended for an offense committed in the last two weeks of the school year regardless of the seriousness of the offense. 
  • Because of the limitations this bill will place on school divisions, it is likely that serious offenses will be more likely to result in expulsion, when previously they would have only resulted in long-term suspension. This is an unintended but very serious consequence of this bill. 

Suspension and Expulsion of Elementary School Students SB997 (Stanley)/HB1536 (R.P. Bell) - These bills prohibit school divisions from suspending or expelling any student in pre-K through grade 5 except in certain cases involving firearms or drugs (in which cases federal law requires that expulsion be considered).   

  • These bills have the purpose and effect of prohibiting even short-term suspensions of elementary school students regardless of the seriousness of the offense (even for a serious or violent criminal offense). 
  • Regardless of the nature of the offense (so long as it does not involve firearms or drugs) the student could not be sent home for even one day. 
  • If you have examples of things that elementary students have done to warrant a suspension, give examples (without disclosing identifying information).  (The proponents of this legislation talk about students being suspended for “pulling pigtails, and throwing paper airplanes.”  We need to make it clear that we are suspending students for serious misconduct.)   
  • State funds are not available for alternative education programs for elementary students.
  • This bill severely limits a school division’s options for disciplining students without providing any additional resources for appropriate alternatives.
  • The proponent of this bill, Just Children, recommended as its number one recommendation in its 2016 report that the General Assembly provide school divisions with additional funding needed to implement methods of preventing and addressing misbehavior without using suspension and expulsion, yet that funding has not been requested nor is it being provided.  This bill takes a tool away from schools without giving schools any alternatives to use.   

Disruptive Behavior – SB996(Stanley)/HB1535(R.P.Bell) - This bill prohibits the use of long-term suspensions or expulsions for disruptive behavior unless the behavior also involves intentional physical injury or credible threat of physical injury to another person.  The term “disruptive behavior” is defined in the Code as “a violation of school board regulations governing student conduct that interrupts or obstructs the learning environment.” 

  • This bill would prohibit a long-term suspension for disruptive behavior regardless how often the student is disruptive or the nature of the disruption (so long as there is no physical injury).
  • This bill severely limits the school division’s ability to provide a safe and non-disruptive learning environment for the 99.8% of students who do not cause disruptions.  This bill puts the interests of the 0.2% of students who are disruptive over the needs of all of the other students.   
  • If you have examples of extremely disruptive behavior that warrants suspension, give examples when speaking with your legislator