CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — State lawmakers in the West Virginia House passed a bill Tuesday that would provide a framework to public school teachers on how to discipline students who are being disruptive in the classroom.
The bill, favored by House Republicans, was advanced to the Senate despite Democrat-raised concerns about provisions requiring a child be removed from their learning environment and suspended if disruptive behavior continues. They said schools should be working to address the root cause of children’s behavioral problems instead of punishing them.
“We live in an impoverished state with huge problems,” said Democratic Del. David Elliott Pritt, who is a public school teacher. “We should pump the brakes before we put a kid out of school.”
The bill passed by House lawmakers dictates educators can remove students from their classroom when “the behavior of the student is disorderly conduct, interfering with an orderly educational process or disruptive to the classroom environment.”
Students would have to leave a teacher’s classroom on the first instance of disruptive behavior for an in-school suspension. If a student’s behavior is disruptive enough for them to be removed from a classroom three times within one month, they would receive an out-of-school suspension.
Administrators would have the option of opting to place the student in an alternative learning center instead of suspending a student, if an alternative learning center is available within the county school system.
Additionally, the bill gives principals leeway to move a student to another teacher’s classroom if the student’s behavior is “considered to be a personality clash and that the student may learn better in a different classroom environment.”
The Republican supermajority rejected a proposed change from Pritt that would have required teachers and other school support staff to meet and come up with a plan to help address a student’s conduct before that student receives an out-of-school suspension. Pritt’s amendment was voted down despite two GOP lawmakers speaking in support of the proposal, pleading with their colleagues to look beyond party politics.
Republican Del. Todd Kirby said some students don’t have support from parents at home to help them address behavioral issues.
“I think it’s important that we as delegates remember that these children are counting on us not to give up on them — not just the good children, but also the disruptive children,” he said.
He urged Republicans to vote on Pritt’s proposal not based on “whose name is beside it and what letters are beside their name,” but because they are doing what they think is the right thing to help kids.
“Vote on it for the kids back in your district that need the support,” he said.
His comments were echoed by Republican Del. Brandon Steele, who said no harm could be caused by taking a step back before taking away a student’s “constitutional right to a free and public education.”
“There’s nothing wrong with this amendment of pumping the brakes and saying, ‘Hey, you guys got to get together and see what you can do on this last-ditch part before we take this kid and stigmatize them for the rest of their lives,’” he said.
The House education chair, Republican Del. Joe Ellington, spoke in support of the bill, saying its intent is to help provide for the education of all students, “not to try to remove a lot of students from school or from the classroom.”
He said if the bill becomes law, the number of students being disciplined or suspended for disruptive behavior might increase initially, “until they realize that’s not going to be tolerated.”
“Once they learn that there’s a little discipline, a lot of times children do conform,” he said. “And the concern is to keep them back in the classroom, not to kick them out. But there are other environments that they need to be in sometimes.”
Ellington said when students are continually disruptive in the classroom, it disrupts other students’ learning and prevents teachers from being able to do their jobs.
Under the bill, teachers would have 24 hours to file a report on the removal of a child from the classroom for disruptive behavior in the West Virginia Education Information System.
Additionally, each county school board would be responsible for implementing its own tiered policy to provide a framework for student behaviors and punishments.
“The policy shall be clear and concise with specific guidelines and examples,” the bill reads.
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