State lawmakers eye bill to ban some suspensions of young students

Ohio could join the growing number of states and cities to ban suspensions of young students as damaging and counterproductive, under a new bill to be released this week.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, who chairs the Senate education committee, says she is astounded that Ohio schools kick kids in kindergarten through third grade out of school more than 30,000 times a year.

There were 36,000 such suspensions – removal from school for up to 10 days – of Ohio’s 540,000 PreK-3 students in 2015-16 and 34,000 in 2016-17.

Many were for serious offenses like vandalism, hurting other students, bringing a gun to school and even “unwelcome sexual conduct” by kindergartners.

But others, she said, come from overzealous use of “zero-tolerance” policies and schools’ inability to manage students. And just under half – 48 percent – are mainly for the lesser offense of disobedient or disruptive behavior.

“We have to come up with a better way to deal with those kids than to throw them out of the classroom,” said Lehner, who will spell out details of her long-anticipated bill to cut suspensions on Tuesday.

It’s an issue that has been drawing increased scrutiny nationally and across Ohio in recent years, as educators worry that suspensions for misdemeanor-like offenses keep kids out of class and hurt learning unnecessarily. The new goal of states like Connecticut and California and cities like Cincinnati, Denver St. Louis and Milwaukee is to help young students manage their behavior, not just punish.

Most of the new bans allow suspensions and expulsions for serious offenses, but limit them for things like “disruptive conduct, rule-breaking and disobedience,” or “willfull defiance.”

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