New Virginia bills target how schools discipline students

RICHMOND, Va. -- A pair of bills proposed by a Virginia state senator aims to keep more students inside the classroom by addressing the lengths of suspensions.

SB 995 and 997, proposed by Sen. William Stanley, R-Franklin County, both passed the Senate's Education Committee on Thursday with some changes.

SB 995 would reduce the maximum length of a long-term suspension for a student from 364 calendar days to 60 school days and "prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current grading period unless aggravating circumstances exist and prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current school year."

In committee, the maximum length was changed from 45 to 60 school days in order for a school to review whether they can reintegrate the student back into the classroom and shorten the suspension.

 Sen. William Stanley

Sen. William Stanley

"I think what we can do is start protecting the 126,000 students that were suspended just last year and find alternatives to suspensions," Sen. Stanely said. "It will keep them in school and keep them being educated, but help them see the error of their ways."

The amendment to SB 995 added that the school system can expand the 60 school day term if the student was found to commit a violent crime or a felony as defined by the Commonwealth.

SB 997 would prohibit students in preschool through third grade from being suspended or expelled for more than 10 days except for drug offenses, firearm offenses, or certain criminal acts. Sen. Stanley's original bill included fifth graders.

"What we are saying is that maybe there's a mental health issue that's not even diagnosed and instead of getting at the heart of the problem we are just sending them home." Sen. Stanley said. "Or some of our kids are living at or below the poverty level and they don't get breakfast or lunch unless they are at school."

SB 995 and 997 will head to the Senate floor for a reading and vote on Monday.