Bill aims to reduce number of out-of-school suspensions

Bill aims to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions; supporters say suspensions lead to drop-outs

(WVUE) - A bill on its way to the full state House of Representatives seeks to reduce the number of school suspensions and expulsions.

At the state capitol Tuesday the rate at which students get suspended drew sharp criticism.

"Based on last year's out-of-school suspension data alone, students missed 62, 580 days of school, a loss of 354 instructional years, or $22.5 million dollars in instructional minutes," said Rep. Walt Leger, D-House Speaker Pro Tem.

Leger authored House Bill 833 which was being discussed before the House Education Committee. It calls for a 24-member committee to scrutinize schools suspension data, especially as it relates to non-white students, and students with disabilities.

"In Louisiana, non-white students are given out-of-school suspensions at a rate 250 percent higher than the national average and students with disabilities, 150-percent higher than the national average," said Rep. Leger.

According to language in the bill, suspensions increase the odds of students experiencing low academic achievement because of missed instruction time and increasing the chances of them dropping out of school.

"I have a son named Garrison, he just turned 9 years old, he has autism and he's high functioning and in his kindergarten years he was sent home 14 times mainly tearing paper," said Amber Boykin, a parent and President of the La. School Psychological Association.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the state's suspension rate alarming.

"Out of school suspensions are an epidemic in Louisiana," said Eden Heilman, of the SPLC.

Schools with suspension rates one and a half times above the state average would have to come up with plans for discipline that do not involve barring students from campus where possible.

A parent picking up her daughter from a New Orleans high school said it was a worthy idea.

"They need other alternatives because if they're missing school, they're missing class work, so they're not getting the necessary education," said the parent, who did not want her name used.

But opponents say some principals and other school leaders are just following the rules, in terms, of suspending students for certain actions.

"If the law mandates that a student who brings a two and a half inch kitchen-knife to school because of some inadvertent circumstances and it's a third grader, a plastic knife, then the discipline statues without discretion require that the student be put out of school," said Scott Richard, Executive Director of the Louisiana School Boards Association.

Leger recognizes that not all school districts in the state have big suspension rates.

However, he said seven districts have 16 or more schools with rates that are one and half times above the state average, including Orleans, Jefferson and Tangipahoa.

The bill's language said an overwhelming percentage of out-of-school suspensions in the state are for non-violent, and minor disruptions such as disrespect and tardiness.

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