Will there be compromise on Va. school suspensions limits?

WASHINGTON — Virginians who want school suspensions to be less severe suffered a partial setback Thursday, when the House of Delegates narrowly refused to agree to a compromise proposed by the Senate.

Under the amendments, schools would be prohibited from suspending students for more than 60 days, unless it was for a serious crime or there are other aggravating circumstances. The bill originally had the maximum length of a suspension set at 90 days, but it was amended to reflect a similar proposal in the state Senate.

“All we’re doing is amending long-term suspensions to a more proportional period,” argued the bill’s sponsor, Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell. “The bill doesn’t take away the school’s ability to long-term suspend.”

Supporters argued that sending children home for long periods of time could make their situation worse, leading to more problems down the road, while those who spoke out against the idea said they were concerned it would have unintended consequences.

“You’re going to start incentivizing expulsion rather than suspension,” said Del. Jackson Miller of Manassas. “Then that child will no longer get the services they need.”

Del. Greg Habeeb, who voted no, said he was worried the bill might take away tools that administrators need to control their students and keep their schools safe.

“These tools are important for both the child subject to the suspension and the other students,” he said.

The amendments were rejected on a tie vote of 49 to 49. The House and Senate could still agree to a compromise during the final week of the session next week.

The House of Delegates also rejected the Senate’s attempt to change another bill filed by Bell that focused on limiting suspensions and expulsions for students in preschool through third grade. The Senate has requested a conference committee on that bill to work out the bodies’ differences.

The suspension legislation comes after a nonprofit focused on children’s legal advocacy concluded last year that Virginia schools have been pushing students out of school through “widespread, discriminatory overuse” of suspension and expulsion.

The Virginia Legal Aid Justice Center’s JustChildren program analyzed data that schools reported to the Virginia Department of Education for the 2014-15 school year. The group said more than 126,000 out-of-school suspensions were given to 70,000 students across the state during that time period.

The Associated Press and WTOP’s Max Smith contributed to this report.


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