A meeting occurred on the evening of May 7 with Rep. Smith and the child advocate coalition and representatives of LAE, LFT and observers from the School Boards' Association. I and others presented our proposals for amendments and a thorough discussion produced what I believe to be a reasonable compromise on the major issues. I am presenting a paraphrasing of the proposed amendments below with the understanding that the actual language is still being drafted by the legislative staff. The following is my best understanding of the amendments that Rep. Smith has agreed to add to the bill on the floor before it is voted upon by the House of Representatives:
- A clause to be added on line 11 of page 2 to give any teacher who has removed a child from his/her classroom because of disruptive or disrespectful behavior the right to either an in-person or telephone conference with the parent or guardian before the student is readmitted to the classroom. As part of this conference the parent or guardian must provide assurance that the parent shall take appropriate steps to prevent the improper student behavior.
- On page 2, line 11 and 12, the language would stipulate that the principal may implement more than one of the measures listed to correct the inappropriate student behavior.
- On page 3, line18, an amendment would allow the principal and the teacher to require a parent conference prior to the student being readmitted to the classroom.
- On page 3, after line 18, add the following; "If reasonable attempts to contact and conference with the parent or guardian are ultimately unsuccessful, then the teacher and principal may confer and establish any other disciplinary measure authorized by the principal with the concurrence of the teacher in line with the law and school board policy.
- Page 3, line 27, language is added to stipulate that the referring teacher cannot be required to take time away from teaching to prepare assignments for students removed from the classroom for disciplinary reasons.
- On page 4, line 14 through 20 would be deleted and Out of school suspension would be added as it was in the original law as one of the options for discipline. Also expulsion would be retained as an option after exhausting other reasonable and appropriate options to keep the student in the classroom.
- Also on page 4, language would be added to make it clear that the principal will enforce the right of a teacher to have an orderly classroom and to give precedence to the rights of other students not to be deprived of instruction because of the actions of a disruptive or uncooperative student. The teacher would also have the right to file a grievance if he/she believes that the principal has not enforced such rights to an orderly classroom.
- On page 4, language would be added to allow the teacher and principal to require a parent conference when the student has been removed from class for the third time because of disciplinary problems.
- On page 4, language would be added to ensure that sanctions or disciplinary measures are applied on a graduated basis determined by the nature of the offense and the disciplinary history of the student and the age and development status of the student.
- On page 6, line 1, language would be added to stipulate that once nonexclusionary discipline alternatives have been considered, implemented and documented to the extent reasonable, suspension of the student could be implemented if such is necessary for the various infractions warranting suspension as listed in the law. [Note to my readers: Such infractions include willful disobedience, disrespectful behavior toward teachers and other school personnel, use of profanity, immoral or vicious practices, engaging in bullying, use of controlled substances, destroying school property, or habitually violating any rule and many other infractions specified in present law. All of the previous requirements for suspension hearings would not be changed by this bill in any way.]
- On page 6, delete lines 10 through 14.
- On page 7, line 12, delete the word "concluded" and insert "scheduled and held".
As I made clear earlier, the final form of the amendments are still being drafted and that the above is simply a paraphrasing of the amendments with every effort being made to give the true meaning of each amendment.
I also want to inform my readers that LAE Executive Director Michael Walker-Jones who participated in the meeting (along with Steve Monaghan of LFT) pointed out that potentially a most powerful alternative to suspensions which is in present law has not been implemented extensively in most school systems. This is a section just after the sections amended by this bill, and it is already in the law. It reads as follows:
Each city, parish, or other public school board may adopt a policy that requires the parent or legal guardian of a pupil removed from the classroom pursuant to this Sub paragraph to attend after school or Saturday intervention sessions with the pupil. The school board may refer a parent who fails to attend such a session to the court of competent jurisdiction in accordance with Chapter 2 of Title VII of the Louisiana Children's code. Each time a parent is referred to the court of competent jurisdiction, the court may impose a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars and not more than two hundred and fifty dollars, forty hours of court approved school or community service activities and attendance at a court approved family counseling program and may suspend any recreational licence issued by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries."
To my knowledge the above mandatory intervention session for the parent of a disruptive or disrespectful student has seldom been used, but according to law, it is available to all public school systems. I believe very strongly that there should be more parent accountability in the student discipline process. In recent years we have seen very little of that.
HB 646 is expected to be debated on the House floor early this week. I believe that Rep. Patricia Smith has made a good faith effort to propose amendments to her bill that properly balance the interests of teachers and principals to enforce orderly classrooms with the need to reduce suspensions and expulsions of students.