RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) – The chairman of the Education Committee in the House of Delegates says major changes are expected for a bill that has caused an uproar on the issue of school suspensions.
House Bill 1461 calls for a uniform system of discipline for disruptive student behavior. A family advocate and education civil rights attorney spoke with 10 On Your Side about their thoughts regarding the bill.
“I read through the bill and I said, ‘oh my god, this is horrible’,” said Cheryl Poe, Founder and Director of Virginia Beach-based Advocating 4 Kids.
Poe says Virginia already has a law where students who have violent or self-harming behavior can be removed from the classroom.
“But then (this bill) adds an extra piece of non-violent behaviors, that they can be considered disruptive to the classroom. The definition of disruptiveness is vague,” Poe said.
A Virginia Department of Education study under the Northam Administration found that Black students are already four times more likely to be suspended than white students.
“It will have an extreme disproportionate impact on primarily lower socioeconomic African American students, Latino students and White students,” said Education Civil Rights Attorney Keith Howard.
Both Poe and Howard say the legislation doesn’t take into account the unique circumstances of students with special needs.
“You have students that are coming to school who have housing insecurity, food insecurity, they’re not stable and many of these children have disabilities,” Howard said.
Additionally, the proposal would remove liability for what it calls the “reasonable actions” of a teacher when a student gets physically or violently disruptive.
“This bill does not account for… what if you have a bad teacher?” Howard wondered.
Howard practices in Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland and DC, and says the Virginia bill on disruptive school behavior stands apart.
“This is much more severe than say DC, North Carolina or Maryland. This is a pretty extreme bill,” Howard explained.
House Education Committee Chairman Glenn Davis (R-Va. Beach) said Thursday afternoon that after input from the autism community and other stakeholders, the bill will undergo “a lot of changes.” Work on the bill will continue next Wednesday.