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New Law Promotes Alternatives to School Suspensions

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NPR
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A new law takes effect next month, requiring public schools in Virginia to consider alternatives to suspension.  State lawmakers approved the measure after a report showed as many as four hundred students a day being kicked out for up to a year. Sandy Hausman reports on what the new measure will mean for kids.

When State Senator Jennifer McClellan heard so many children were facing suspension – many of them African-American or kids with learning disabilities --  she knew something had to change. 

“You’re not addressing the underlying cause of the behavior," she says, "and  you’re putting students out of school in many cases with no instruction at all as long as 364 days.  When they come back, they’re far behind their peers.  Some of them may be sitting at home alone, and there are lots of studies that show that’s when kids start to get in trouble.”

So she co-sponsored a bill requiring the state board of education to compile information about alternatives to suspension and urge public schools to try those approaches.  That didn’t, in her opinion, go far enough.

“I’ve had bills that would have required schools to provide instruction to students that are long-term suspended or expelled," she recalls.  "We’ve had bills that would have limited the amount of time students can be suspended long term.  We’ve had bills that would require schools to exhaust all other available remedies before going to long-term suspension or expulsion, but we haven’t been able to get those bills passed.”

The vast majority of suspensions are issued for non-violent, relatively minor misbehavior -- class disruption, defiance or having a cell phone. Ironically, hundreds of kids are kicked out for poor attendance.

The new law takes effect July first, and McClellan says it’s just a starting point in state efforts to break the school to prison pipeline.  The General Assembly did not provide more money to schools to create alternative programs for students who are suspended.