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RichmondTimes-Dispatch: Virginia Senate approves long-term student suspension reform PDF Print E-mail



Virginia is on the brink of having student discipline reform.

The Senate on Monday approved House Bill 1600 from Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, which would limit the length of a long-term suspension — which is currently classified as 11 school days to 364 calendar days — at 45 school days, except for some instances. The body voted 34-6 in favor of the bill.

Other than a motion to pass the bill and brief elaboration from Sen. Steve Newman, R-Lynchburg, there was no discussion on the bill. Newman, the chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, spoke to how the bill was a compromise from what was initially introduced.

Bourne’s first draft of the bill simply capped long-term suspensions at 45 school days, or the length of one marking period. A substitute was introduced as it made its way through the House of Delegates saying a long-term suspension could exceed 45 school days under two conditions: The school board or superintendent finds that “aggravating circumstances” exist or the long-term suspension is preceded by another one in the same school year.

The bill allows the Virginia Department of Education to define “aggravating circumstances.”

Virginia schools issued 2,965 long-term suspensions in 2015-16, according to a Legal Aid Justice Center report released in October. The suspensions disproportionately affect black and disabled students, according to data in the report.

Bourne’s bill was approved by the House in an 84-15 vote earlier in the General Assembly session.

More recess in elementary schools

Legislators have again backed efforts to expand recess in Virginia.

The Senate unanimously approved House Bill 1419 from Del. Karrie Delaney, D-Centreville, which would allow recess in elementary schools to be counted as instructional time. Currently, local school boards must allot a set amount of classroom instructional time each year, and recess does not count toward that time.

Delaney’s bill adjusts the time allotted for the core subjects — English, math, science and social studies — to allow for 20 more minutes of recess per day.

The House Education Committee also voted unanimously to report the Senate version of the bill from Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, with a substitute to conform it to Delaney’s bill. Petersen’s original bill had the same intent — more recess — but did not include the core subject time allotments.

The bills do not mandate that school boards have to implement added recess time.

Teacher licenses for military spouses

Both chambers on Monday approved a bill aimed at curbing the state’s teacher shortage.

The House and Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 103 from Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, and House Bill 2 from Del. Richard “Dickie” Bell, R-Staunton, respectively. The bills would require the Virginia Board of Education to provide one-year teacher licenses for the active-duty military spouses who have an out-of-state license.


The state had more than 1,000 unfilled teacher positions at the start of the 2016 school year.

Eliminating ‘lunch shaming’

In another uncontroversial measure, the House and Senate unanimously approved a bill to eliminate “lunch shaming.”

The House passed Senate Bill 840 from Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, while House Bill 50 from Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, cleared the Senate. The bills would require Virginia school boards to adopt policies that prohibit school employees from publicly identifying or shaming a student in the division who cannot pay for a school meal or who has meal debt.

Student loan ombudsman

The House approved part of the governor’s higher education agenda in creating a student loan ombudsman office.

The body voted 90-8 to approve Senate Bill 394 from Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, which would create the Office of the Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman within the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in an effort to help student loan borrowers.

The House version of the bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee.

The main part of Northam’s higher education agenda — the Borrower’s Bill of Rights — is set to be heard in a House subcommittee Tuesday.