BOSTON—The House and Senate on Tuesday night passed legislation to reduce unnecessary school suspensions and expulsions, and ensure access to educational services for many of the state’s most vulnerable students. H. 4332 was sponsored by Representative Alice Wolf (D-Cambridge), and reported out of the Joint Committee on Education.
“I was proud to champion this bill in the Senate, and I’d like to offer my sincerest congratulations to Representative Wolf on the bill’s passage through the full Legislature.” said Sonia Chang-Díaz (D-Boston),Senate Chair of the Education Committee and a strong supporter of the bill. “Educational opportunity is one of the most fundamental promises we make to our young people. This bill fills in a troubling gap in that promise, and it also makes a down payment on the dropout prevention reforms that continue to be one of my highest priorities.”
The bill aims to curb the overuse of suspension and expulsion—jointly known as school exclusions—as a disciplinary tactic other than as a last resort. News reports in recent years have documented cases of extremely young students being expelled, disparities by race and by disability in the use of exclusions, and sometimes heavy-handed use of exclusions in response to student infractions that don’t endanger safety. Data show that a student being suspended or expelled is a strong precursor to him or her dropping out of school, which leads to far-reaching consequences for the student, the community, and taxpayers.
H. 4332 requires school districts to allow students who are excluded for more than 10 consecutive school days to continue making academic progress, by means of alternative educational services. Examples of such alternative schooling include tutoring, alternative placement, Saturday school, and online or distance learning.
The bill also requires school districts to report data about all suspensions and expulsions to the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education (DESE) to help policymakers identify important trends or patterns in the use of school exclusions. DESE must also make aggregated data available to the public.
In addition, the bill addresses school exclusions for less serious offenses. Infractions such as gun possession, drug dealing, or felony charges are covered by a separate statute. Under this bill:
- Students are granted a system of due process for school exclusions not already covered by law. For instance, for exclusions of a student in kindergarten through grade 3, the principal must notify the superintendent of the alleged misconduct and the reasons for the suspension;
- Principals may exercise discretion when deciding on disciplinary action for a student but must avoid using expulsion as a consequence until other remedies have been employed; and
- Students cannot be excluded for more than 90 school days for a (less serious) offense (the equivalent of half a school year).
The bill also includes a few provisions directly related to dropout prevention:
- It requires districts to adopt an absence notification policy to parents/guardians in the case
- It removes the provision of law that previously allowed young people to not attend school in order to work; and
- It requires superintendents (or their designees) to conduct an exit interview with a student and his or her parents, together with school personnel, prior to a student dropping out of school to discuss the reasons for leaving and to consider alternative educational options. The superintendent must provide information about the detrimental effects of leaving school and a list of the alternative education options available to the student.
of multiple unexcused absences;
“This bill strikes the balance of allowing school administrators the authority to make decisions protecting the safety of other students and staff, while also sending the message that we don’t give up on our students so easily,” said Chang-Díaz. “Students don’t just fade away when they’re expelled from school. They remain in our neighborhoods and in our society. Our responsibility to them doesn’t go away, and neither do the impacts they can have on our communities—for ill or for good. This bill recognizes that. In addition to Rep. Wolf and Rep. Alice Peisch, I also want to thank the advocates for all the work they’ve put into this bill over the years, and the Senate President for her leadership in bringing it to the Senate floor in the final days of this legislative session.”
One of the many advocates, Attorney Thomas Mela of the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, noted that, “The Education Law Task Force supports H. 4332 because of its years of experience researching school discipline policy issues and representing students harmed by school exclusions.”