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Lawmakers propose disciplinary restrictions on school districts

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia lawmakers are considering education proposals that could place disciplinary restrictions on school districts.

One proposal will ban suspensions for elementary school students, except in cases of drug and weapon offenses, while two others place limits on long-term suspensions and expulsions.

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, is a step forward for parents like Nya Collier.

Collier said her 6-year-old son Julian has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and has been suspended several times from school because of disruptive behavior.

“He needs to be in school and he really enjoys schools,” Collier said. “That’s the heartbreaking thing about it because he always tells me he misses his teachers.  He loves school and he wants to be in school, but he keeps getting sent home because of his behavior.”

Jullian and Nya Collier

Jullian and Nya Collier

Education advocates, including Kandise Lucas with Equity in Schools, said suspension policies are often ineffective and tend to target minority students and children with disabilities.

“We have school divisions that are suspending children as young as four years old, who are not even developmentally capable to engaging in appropriate behavior,” said Lucas. “Henrico County, for instance, in one year had 12,000 suspensions.”

The proposals introduced in the House by Richard Bell, (R-Staunton) and in the Senate by Bill Stanley (R-Moneta), would reduce the length of long-term suspensions from 364 days to 45 school days. 

The legislation would also ban suspensions from extending beyond the end of one grading period, except for aggravated circumstances.

Lorraine Wright, an education advocate with Dignity in Schools, said the legislation also bans schools from expelling or suspending students for disruptive behavior, unless it poses a credible threat to someone else.

“What we have to understand is that a lot of the kids who are acting up in these quote on quote ‘disruptive ways’ are being subjected to ridiculous amounts of trauma in their homes and their own communities,” said Wright.

Collier says her son’s disruptive behavior can often be prevented, simply by engaging him with work.  

She said school districts should understand the need for alternative solutions.
“He’s very, very smart,” Collier said of her son. “It just goes back to challenging him.”