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Bill limiting how long young students can be suspended passes Va. Senate

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday limiting the number of days early elementary students can be suspended from school.

SB 170, patrolled by Sen. Williiam Stanley (R) and Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D), would prohibits schools from suspending Pre-K to third grade students for more than three days or expelling them unless the student commits a criminal act involving weapons or drugs.

Advocates for limiting school suspension of young children said the number of suspensions are on the rise in the Commonwealth and have a greater impact on students of color and with disabilities. In 2015-16, more than 17,000 early elementary school students were suspended statewide, according to the Legal Aid Justice Center.

“This is a very narrow measure that addresses the youngest of our children, who do need a little bit more help in regulating their emotion, and who are too often suspended for what is subjective criteria,” McClellan said. “What is disrespectful to one teacher is not to another one, and unfortunately, too many of our children of color and our children with disabilities are the ones getting lost.”

Critics of the measure said it would hamstring teachers and administrators, who know better than lawmakers how to handle disruptive students.

"We’re talking about school discipline, which is flying out the window, every time we do something like this,” said Sen. John Cosgrove (R - Chesapeake). “Let’s let teachers and principals and school boards run the schools."

The bill, which passed the Senate 34-6, now heads over to the House of Delegates. A similar bill was voted down in the education subcommittee earlier in session.