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Bill addressing student discipline advances from Committee

From Jordan Hensley, LRC

Frankfort, KY - Lawmakers began to take the next step in addressing Kentucky's teacher shortage during Tuesday's House Education Committee meeting.

House Bill 538 would make changes to the student discipline process. Committee Vice-chair Rep. Timmy Truett, R-McKee, who is also an elementary school principal, said the bill is important when it comes to addressing Kentucky's education problems.

"This bill offers guidelines, procedures for how to handle disciplinary actions inside the school setting," Truett said. "Also the goal of this is to empower teachers to control what happens inside their classrooms. And by doing both of these things, I believe we can help with recruitment, and we can help with retention."

Under HB 538, school boards would be required to adopt policy that would require schools to expel students for at least 12 months when they pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of students and school personnel. School boards would also be required to adopt policy that would require disciplinary action for a student who has physically assaulted, battered or abused personnel or other students off school property if the incident is likely to disrupt the educational process.

The bill would also permit a superintendent to place a student in an alternative program, including a virtual alternative program, if it is deemed appropriate for the student.

For teachers, the bill would prohibit a disruptive student who was removed from a classroom from returning for the remainder of the school day unless the teacher allows it. The bill also would deem a student who is removed from a classroom three times within a 30-day period as chronically disruptive and allow that student to be suspended.

Rockcastle County Schools Superintendent Carrie Ballinger joined Truett in testifying in favor of HB 538.

"This gives our administrators ability to make decisions on a case-by-case basis," Ballinger said.

During discussion, Rep. Felicia Rabourn, R-Pendleton, said she has concerns about the provision that handles disciplining students for incidents that happen outside of school.

"I would argue that section of the bill is completely unconstitutional," Rabourn said. "I don't believe it's the proper role of the school to interfere with what happens after school hours."

Eric Kennedy, director of advocacy for the Kentucky School Boards Association, said the language in the bill is narrowly written and in alignment with current law.

Rep. Lisa Willner, D-Louisville, said she has concerns about what she believes will be unintended consequences of HB 538.

"We know that we have disproportionate outcomes in discipline by race, by poverty, by disability, by these other concerns," she said, asking if there are any guardrails in place in the bill to address those issues.

Truett said the classroom removal portion of the bill gives principals the ability to review why a student is having an issue with a particular teacher and determine if a situation warrants disciplinary action on a case-by-case basis.

"My goal is not to have more kids expelled," Truett said. "My goal is to have safety in the classroom and provide instruction to those students as opposed to expelling students and kicking them outside the school setting."

Rep. Steve Riley, R-Glasgow, spoke in favor of HB 538. He said the "status-quo cannot continue in schools."

"It is not fair to the 95% of our students who go to school to learn to not be able to learn in the classroom because of the constant disruptions," Riley added.

The House Education Committee approved HB 538 by a 17-4 vote. It will now go before the full House for consideration.

This story was posted on 2023-02-28 14:54:19
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