Friday, February 3, 2017

VSBA Action Alert - Student Discipline Bills - HB1536 and HB1534 (R. P. Bell)

These two bills are on the floor of the House and will be on the third reading Monday. Please contact your delegate to ask them to oppose HB 1536 and HB 1534.

HB 1536, as amended, limits the length of time that a student in grades pre-K through 3 can be suspended to 5 days.  A student in grades pre-k through 3 cannot be suspended for more than 5 days or expelled, except in limited cases involving firearms or drugs.  VSBA opposes this bill.
  • While long-term suspensions and expulsions are very rarely used for students in grade three and below, suspensions and expulsions are an option that school divisions may consider in the most egregious cases.  This bill has the purpose and effect of prohibiting any suspension of more than 5 days for students in pre-K through 3 regardless of the seriousness of the offense (even for a serious or violent criminal offense).
  • 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.
Please contact your Delegate before Monday and ask him or her to vote NO on HB 1536.  Give them examples of the types of serious offenses for which a student in pre-K through grade 3 would be suspended.  Examples we have heard include physical injury to others, inappropriate sexual behaviors, and weapons (other than firearms). 

 HB 1534, as amended, limits long-term suspensions to 45 days, unless aggravating circumstances exist, in which case the long-term suspension may last a maximum of 90 days.  The maximum length of a long term suspension would be 90 days, regardless of the circumstances.  VSBA opposes this bill.

  • 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. 
  • 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.
Please contact your Delegate, before Monday and ask them to vote NO on HB 1534.  Give them examples of the types of serious offenses for which a suspension beyond 90 days would be used.