Tuesday 23rd April 2024

Senate approves measure to bolster student discipline


Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, testifies on Senate Bill 202, which would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student is considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption.

FRANKFORT — The Senate unanimously approved a measure Wednesday that takes aim at improving student discipline in Kentucky’s public schools.

Senate Bill 202, sponsored by Sen. Stephen West, R-Paris, would give local school boards more flexibility to place students into alternative learning programs if the student is considered a safety threat or is likely to cause a substantial disruption, among other measures.

“This bill is a very simple bill. It allows for the expulsion to be extended. It allows for more alternative options. In a nutshell, it gives more options to superintendents and school districts when it comes to expulsions,” West said.

He said the measure will add more discretion for the superintendent to do alternative programming, including virtual learning.

The bill also would require, 30 days before a student’s expulsion ends, the local school board to review the circumstances and determine if the expulsion should be extend for a period not to exceed 12 months. The board will consider if ending the expulsion will substantially disrupt the education process or constitute a threat to students or school staff.

West said all grades of students have serious problems with discipline.

“This issue, we always talk about is the urban-rural divide, and this is not an urban-rural divide problem. This is not a JCPS problem. This is a problem in every district in the commonwealth,” West said.

During the interim period, West spoke with stakeholders from many groups, and there was the recurring theme of discipline problems, he said.

“This issue is so important that it affects and bleeds over into other areas that we’re having problems with. For instance, the teacher shortage issue. You’re seeing that older teachers, if they’re eligible for retirement, are leaving early because they can’t deal with these issues in the classroom,” West said.

West told legislators they won’t be able to address every issue this session, but the bill will begin to address discipline problems.

Sen. John Schickel, R-Union, said SB 202 and several other bills that deal with discipline are some of the most important ones legislators will work on this session.

“We talked a lot yesterday about our juvenile justice system and the state of disarray that it was in. Even though this is not directly connected, I think it is connected in the fact that our schools are hurting,” he said.

Schickel said there’s a crisis with recruiting teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and every type of position within schools. “If we don’t get our hands around this, our children and our families are at risk.”

Senate Minority Floor Leader Gerald A. Neal, D-Louisville, cautioned that the bill requires a certain amount of discretion in the classroom, and that’s based upon someone’s judgment. Neal said he supports multiple tools to deal with certain circumstances.

“It gives an option, that instead of necessarily sending a young person out of the school setting, that there are options that are available to keep them in the learning process,” he said.

Senate Minority Caucus Chair Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, said it’s important to be transparent about discipline issues in schools, pointing to schools in Fayette County as an example.

“What we’ve seen historically is that these kinds of discretions in judgment tend to disproportionally affect Black students more than white students. That when you look at the students that are being removed from the classroom or are being suspended or being expelled, they are disproportionally Black as opposed to white,” he said, adding that the situation has improved over the last few years.

“We don’t want these decisions again to have a disproportional impact on Black students because they are there to learn too,” he said.

Sen. Donald Douglas, R-Nicholasville, said teachers are in the schools to teach, not to parent children. He said he doesn’t think teachers necessarily treat Black students unfairly.

“To make an assumption that our teachers are going to discipline someone just because of their race is offensive to me, and it should be offensive to everyone in the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” he said.

Sen. Matthew Deneen, R-Elizabethtown, also said serious discipline problems exist with students of all ages.

“After 29 years in education, I’ve also worked in alternative schools. I’ve dealt with discipline in the classroom, and I’ve seen my colleagues deal with discipline in the classroom. What I hear quite often is we focus so much on the disrupter that we lose sight of the rest of the children in that classroom,” he said.

The out-of-control behavior and the lack of discipline have a ripple effect, he said, adding he supports the measure.

“It provides our administrators with options. It provides superintendents with options. And more importantly, it provides safety and security for our children. That is the most important thing,” he said.