Bill that would curb suspensions of youngest public school students clears Senate committee _lowres

Advocate Photo by MARK BALLARD -- Baton Rouge Sen. Sharon Broome, a Democrat, accepts congratulations Thursday after the Louisiana Senate Education Committee voted to advance her bill that would generally ban out-of-school suspensions for the youngest public school students. Last year more than 7,400 public school students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades were given out-of-school suspensions.

Louisiana Senate President Pro Tem Sharon Broome, D-Baton Rouge, all but shelved her plan Monday to generally ban out-of-school suspensions for Louisiana’s youngest public school students.

The measure, Senate Bill 54, earlier won narrow approval in the Senate Education Committee despite heated opposition from the Louisiana School Boards Association and others.

That criticism forced Broome to rethink her plans, and she told the Senate Finance Committee that she wanted to offer a drastically scaled-back bill to replace the original one.

Under the revamped version, school authorities would only be banned from handing down out-of-school suspensions for most school uniform violations. However, those problems represent just a tiny fraction of the 7,400 instances of public school students in kindergarten, first, second and third grades being sent home last year.

“It is a baby step,” Broome said of her revamped bill.

The panel approved the measure without objection.

The revised legislation applies to students from prekindergarten through fifth grade.

It next faces action in the full Senate.

Current rules allow even the state’s youngest public school students to be sent home for willful disobedience, intentional disrespect toward teachers and principals, profane language, carrying firearms, bullying or school disturbances.

Under Broome’s original bill, students would face loss of privileges, referral to a school counselor or social worker, or some other kind of intervention rather than an out-of-school suspension.

The Democrat, who is running for mayor-president of East Baton Rouge Parish, said when children are sent home, they have a greater risk of falling behind.

But she acknowledged that her bill sparked heavy resistance.

“I was getting a lot of pushback from administrators, from teachers who I don’t know if they really understood the motivation behind the bill,” Broome said after the meeting.

“They thought I was trying to take their authority away from them for discipline,” she said. “That was not my motivation. My motivation was to stop the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Opponents said previously that the original ban proposal would handcuff school officials, who they said sometimes have no choice but to suspend a student who is disrupting a classroom of 30 or so students.

The original bill was opposed by the Louisiana Association of Principals, Louisiana Federation of Teachers, Louisiana Association of Educators and Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.

The revamped measure also would ban charter schools from suspending or expelling students from prekindergarten through fifth grade for uniform violations.

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