Gov. McAuliffe Signs Bill to Curb School Suspensions

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Gov. Terry McAuliffe signing the bill in Richmond Gov. Terry McAuliffe signing the bill in Richmond

Friday, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed a bill that looks to curb school suspensions.

Lawmakers passed the legislation this year in an effort to encourage alternatives to a type of discipline that sometimes backfires.

In Richmond, McAuliffe and other lawmakers hailed the bill as a step in the right direction. They say sometimes suspensions are counter-productive and make it more difficult for young kids to reach their full potential.

"This is a fantastic piece of legislation that has been years in the making and long overdue," 33rd District Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D) said.

The bill directs the Board of Education to set up best practice alternatives to school suspensions. It's part of an undertaking called “Classrooms, not Courtrooms.”

“I don't have to tell anybody in this room that if you suspend or expel a child, you are beginning down a road that will make it much more difficult for that child to get a quality education and to join our workforce and for some, we may be unfortunately permanently putting people aside and we cannot do that to our young children," McAuliffe said.

Now, the state board will work to set up guidelines for educators that propose different options other than short and long-term suspensions.

The governor and the lawmakers who sponsored this bill said Friday that many children can be set back when taken out of the classroom.

"Think about it, many of the kids who end up acting out in school are doing so because there's problems at home, or because they're already struggling academically. So removing these kids from their schools where they have structure, where they have support, is ultimately counterproductive and perpetuates this cycle of isolation and failure,” Wexton said.

According to the Governor's Office, another issue is that the suspensions tend to disproportionately fall on non-white children and students with disabilities.

"Virginia is still number one in the nation for referring kids to the criminal justice system out of our school system, these bills will help change that," Wexton said.

Leaders at Friday's press conference emphasized that in recent years, many in education, public safety and the private sector have worked hard to collaborate and address these issues in Virginia.

But they feel this legislation builds strongly on those efforts.