Lawmakers in the Ohio House have approved a new way for superintendents to deal with students they fear are a threat to others, to school staff or to the district. But as Statehouse correspondent Karen Kasler reports, the bill didn’t pass without a fight.
Current law allows for the expulsion of students who have committed crimes against other students or school staffers.
This bill gives a superintendent the authority to expel a student who hasn’t committed a crime, but is thought to be a threat -- for instance, if a student told someone he planned to hurt others.
Republican State Rep. Bill Hayes of Granville near Newark said the bill was about school safety, and that he hopes its provisions are never needed.
“Because if they are, you’re really in a bad state of affairs," Granville said. "But if it’s necessary, if you do have a situation where you have imminent and severe endangerment of your school community, we think it’s time to get something that lets the superintendents deal with that.”
But several Democrats said current law is sufficient in dealing with students who pose real, serious threats.
Democratic State Rep. Denise Driehaus of Cincinnati noted that the first expulsion in the bill is for 180 days -- an entire school year -- and a superintendent can extend that by 90 days, for as long as he or she feels is necessary.
“A kid can be expelled under this bill forever," Driehaus said. "Never go back to school if that’s the determination of the superintendent. So to call this not zero tolerance, this in my view is zero tolerance.”
The bill does require a district to come up with a plan to continue the student’s education during the expulsion.
Democrats also brought up testimony offered in committee by doctors who said that expulsion can actually make a student’s behavior and overall situation worse, and noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children’s Defense Fund and other groups oppose the bill.
Roland Winburn is from Dayton.
“Supporting this legislation would likely contribute to an expelling youth further failing behind academically," Winburn said, "further acting out from embarrassment and frustration on being unable to catch up in the classroom, and eventually being involved with the juvenile justice system as a young adult entering the adult penal system.”
Democrats also said the bill could hurt poor children and students of color more than other kids.
But Republican State Rep. Lou Terhar of Cincinnati, whose wife is the president of the state school board, said all students need to be protected.
"An education is the only way out for a poor child, no matter who he is, he or she," Terhar said. "I know, because I was that poor child in the school. I know how important it is for education. And I ask you to consider before you vote all the other students in that school and their rights and what they need and where they’re going to try to go with their education.”
Democrats advocated for early intervention and school training programs. But the expulsion bill won out, with the House voting overwhelmingly in favor of it. It now moves on to the Senate.