Gov. Northam Signs Bill to Reform School Suspensions

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Ralph Northam (Photo courtesy Associated Press) Ralph Northam (Photo courtesy Associated Press)

The Legal Aid Justice Center is celebrating a bill that will dramatically reduce the number of students being suspended in Virginia schools.

Virginia's governor Ralph Northam signed that bill into law on Friday, June 1, at a ceremony in Richmond. This bill will make Virginia one of the first states in the country to enact a statewide reform for school discipline.

Senate Bill 170 and House Bill 1600 will cap most suspensions for students in grades Pre-K through third grade to no more than three days. The new legislation will also reduce the length of most long-term suspensions for students in those grades to a period of 11 to 45 days.

The Legal Aid Justice Center says that's down from its current span of 11 to 364 calendar days.

“Suspension and expulsion disproportionately affects students of color and students with disabilities at alarming rates, and what had been happening over the years and still is continuing to happen is that students of color and students with disabilities was being essentially filtered into a second-tier education program,” says Amy Woolard, the attorney and policy coordinator at LAJC.

In addition to the school discipline reform bill, the general assembly also passed a two-year budget that included $500,000 per year to implement positive behavior support in schools across the state.

During the 2015-2016 school year, a report from Legal Aid showed that Virginia schools issued over 130,000 out-of-school suspensions to over 70,000 students.

The School Discipline Reform Bill will go into effect on July 1.