Despite heavy criticism, a bill that would generally ban out-of-school suspensions for Louisiana’s youngest public school students won approval Thursday in the Senate Education Committee.
The proposal, Senate Bill 54, is sponsored by state Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge.
It won approval without objection and next faces action in the full Senate.
Last year, more than 7,400 public school students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades were given out-of-school suspensions.
The bill would ban suspensions and expulsions for students in kindergarten through third grade unless they pose a threat to the safety or well-being of others.
Students would, instead, face loss of privileges, referral to a school counselor or social worker or some other kind of intervention.
Broome said when students are tossed out of school, they have a greater risk of falling behind in their classwork or failing the class.
She said children see the suspension as a vacation.
“These children, 5, 6, 7, maybe some 8 years old, are at the early stages of realizing who they are and realizing that they have potential in this life,” Broome told the committee in her closing comments.
“I would like to cut the school-to-prison pipeline, and one of the ways we can do this is by showing concern for 5, 6, 7 and maybe 8-year-olds for their educational journey,” she added.
An attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center agreed.
“Schools are really quick to use suspensions, and they are really not effective,” said Jennifer CoCo, a lawyer for the group.
“The schools aren’t doing anything to address that behavior problem,” she said.
Carranza Johnson, of New Orleans, a single mother of two, said her 7-year-old son was suspended seven times between August and March, including once for “intentionally falling into a mud puddle.”
Johnson said, “I personally feel they (school authorities) would rather suspend him than deal with him.”
However, she said her son is flourishing at a new school and is on the honor roll.
“The new school knows how to deal with him, and they know how to deal with his behavior,” Johnson said.
The bill was opposed by the Louisiana Association of Principals, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
Debra Schum, executive director of the principals’ group, said many school districts lack the resources to handle disruptive students who are subject to out-of-school suspension.
“We cannot allow a single student to disrupt the education of others,” Schum said.
She also said that while sending a student home from school may upset the routine of parents, that is required in some cases.
“Sometimes it may be needed for the parents to realize it has become of the utmost importance that we talk about the child and his behavior,” Schum said.
Under current policies, even the state’s youngest students can be sent home for willful disobedience, intentional disrespect toward teachers and principals, profane language, carrying firearms, bullying or school disturbances.