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State lawmakers look at reducing 'discipline gap' in classrooms

One bill aims for education equality by addressing what advocates say is a significant disparity in the discipline of students, especially regarding suspension rates

ST PAUL, Minn. — State lawmakers say they’re trying to bring more equality into classrooms across the state.

And one bill in particular aims to do that by addressing what advocates say is a significant disparity in the discipline of students, especially regarding suspension rates.

“Black and brown students, eight times more likely, and indigenous students, 10 times more likely,” said Rep. Kaohly Her, DFL-St. Paul, about the suspension “gap.”

Under Her’s bill, schools would be encouraged to mitigate the consequences of frequent suspensions through several options, including: exploring alternatives, such as counseling; using standard definitions for disciplinary actions; and making sure that suspended students are able to make up their missed work.

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“If children are not in class, they can not learn,” Her said about her proposed legislation, which she also says “is not the perfect solution. It won’t solve all our problems. But it is a place for us to start.”

On Friday, parents, teachers and others involved in school administration testified in support of the bill during a hearing in the House Education Policy Committee.

 “I’ve found as a teacher the way to build relationships with kids is by bringing them in and making them feel that sense of belonging rather than pushing them out,” said Matt Shaver, a seventh and eighth grade science teacher at Northeast College Prep in Minneapolis.

Shaver further noted that he sees a correlation between behavior and academic abilities.

“Typically the students who struggle the most with behavior are also the ones who struggle the most with reading,” he said, adding that he’d prefer to see school districts deal with the root problem early in a child’s education.

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Parents weigh in, too

Meantime, parents and relatives offered their perspectives on the need for the legislation.

“[My son] has been to 17 different schools in five districts in a short amount of time,” said one mother who asked to only go by her first name, Susan.

Susan said her son and other students who may have special educational needs deserve more opportunities.

“He’s working really hard to get good grades, participates in sports and volunteers with me. I’m really proud of him. And I want other students like him to get the credit they deserve and have people start seeing that people are good children and not bad children,” she said.

Erica Valliant agrees.

“She’s been suspended multiple times from school,” Valliant said about her niece, an eighth grader.

“They’re missing whatever they’re supposed to be learning and when they get back, they’re behind,” she said.

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