Proposed bill aims to place caps on length of school suspensions

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. – Suspensions at schools took center stage Thursday. People gathered in front of the Rochester City School District administration building to rally and march. It’s to support a bill that would limit student suspensions across the state.

Supporters of the Solutions Not Suspensions Act argue school districts are not doing enough to reduce the number of students negatively impacted by being suspended from school. They’re calling for state lawmakers to pass a bill that would place caps on both the age and length of time a student be suspended. 

Marching from RCSD administration building to the Monroe County Jail, Nidia Benitez with the advocacy group The Children’s Agenda says school suspensions lead to a domino effect.

“What happens is they fall behind so when they come back to school with their classmates, its harder for them to catch up which may prevent them from graduating high school,” says Benitez.

In a policy report published by The Children’s Agenda, black and Hispanic students are up to five times more likely to be suspended than white students. Reasons why organizers like Grace Ridley say school districts need to do more to keep students in the classroom.

“We would like to see programs that aid children in their development. social learning, not being dismissed but positive reinforcement and different skills to offset misbehaving,” says Ridley.

If passed, the bill would limit the use of suspensions for students Pre-K through third grade to only the most serious behavior. It would also shorten the maximum length of suspension from 180 days to 20 days, except when required by federal law.

But, according to the RCSD chiefs’ report, school suspensions in Rochester are down- with 6,732 fewer days of suspension this year compared to last year at the same point. However, people like Reverend Marilyn Cunningham believe more needs to be done.

“It’s a dangerous place for a child to have to walk up and down the street if they are kicked out of school,” says Cunningham. “But if there things that are put in place that can keep these kids in school, I’m all for it.”

Other measures that would apply statewide would require school codes of conduct to include restorative approaches to discipline.

Charter schools would also be required to follow state education law on student behavior and school discipline.