Sen. Jennifer T. Wexton (D-33) has introduced two bills to try to break up what she calls the “school to prison pipeline.”
One, Senate Bill 829, is brief, directing the state Board of Education to establish guidelines for alternatives to short-term and long-term suspension for local school boards to consider. The bill says says alternatives “may include positive behavior incentives, mediation, peer-to-peer counseling, community service, and other intervention alternatives.” Taking kids out of school, Wexton said, only makes it harder for them to catch back up to their peers.
“Those often are the kids who need the structure of being in the school setting, who once they fall behind, it’s that much harder for them to catch up,” Wexton said. She said suspension is the first resort in some school districts.
Another bill, SB 1082, removes a requirement that school principals refer certain offenses that may be low-level misdemeanors to law enforcement.
“The problem with that is it could include Bobby pulled Sally’s pigtails, or so-and-so kicked a wastebasket across the room,” Wexton said. Her bill, she argues, wuld give principals more discretion.
Taken together, Wexton said, the bills stop a school system that snares some students in a catch-22 and steers them to prison. Both bills passed the Senate unanimously and have been referred to House of Delegates Committee on Education.
“If you’re going to remove that children from school, chances are they’re going home to an environment where they’re not necessarily going to get any kind of instruction,” Wexton said. “…When they’re out of school, they come back, they’re more behind, and what are they going to do do? They act it. It just becomes a self perpetuating cycle.”