Ohio Senator Charleta Tavares (D) has introduced Senate Bill 34 that would prohibit school boards from adopting Zero Tolerance policies that ultimately hamper the ability of school administrators and teachers from reaching at-risk children to address their needs on a case-by-case basis.  The adoption of zero tolerance policies often force the hand of school personnel to treat all children and all behavioral problems the same, effectively eliminating their ability to offer students an appropriate form of “due process” and alternate intervention strategies that seek to assist students who may be suffering from extreme behavioral issues.

In many cases, these students need greater care, stability, and support from the school environment instead of receiving a mandatory expulsion from the school, resulting in the onset of a vicious cycle where the student is punished twice — first through an expulsion, and second through the loss of any form of educational support during the forced time away from the school environment.

Senator Tavares provided outstanding testimony on this bill on March 17, expressing some outstanding key statistical points that further demonstrate how disciplinary incidents in Ohio also disproportionately affect Black students and students with disabilities – two of the key subgroups of students that schools are supposed to be supporting based on federal reporting of student achievement [emphasis-added]:

A disproportionate number of the total number of disciplinary incidents in Ohio public schools affected Black students and students with disabilities. Black students in Ohio public schools for the 2012-13 school year accounted for 52 percent of all suspensions and 53 percent of all expulsions, even though Black students comprise only 15.9 percent of students enrolled in Ohio schools. Students with disabilities account for 27.5 percent of all suspensions, but only 14.8 percent of total enrollment. Black students are over 6 times more likely to be suspended than white students, and students with disabilities are approximately twice as likely to be suspended. Students with emotional disturbance – a certain category of disability under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act – however, are over six times more likely to be suspended. And if you put race and disability together, a Black student with emotional disturbance is 25 times more likely to be suspended than a White student with no disability.

Statistics that are as skewed as those listed above simply cannot be ignored by Ohio’s educators.  While this legislation addresses the concept of expulsion as an end result, educators and communities need to think deeply about these disproportionate numbers and take a step back to ask why those numbers are so high.  Whether it means that schools and communities need to band together to help challenged youth or whether individuals need to assess their own personal practices, the statistics above certainly illustrate the true notion of children who are being “left behind.”  The most basic reality of this situation is that teachers can’t teach and children can’t learn if they aren’t in the same place.

These statistics also help to point out that schools are much more than the “content factories” that our illustrious education reformers would lead you to believe.  Professional educators in our schools have the opportunity to be much more than deliverers of content knowledge and test proctors, if they are given the opportunity.

As Ohio legislators under the current Kasich Administration like to be followers of other states (Massachusetts was touted highly in Kasich’s first budget and during arguments in favor of the Common Core; Florida was the “model” for the Third Grade Reading Guarantee), Senator Tavares continued in her testimony to connect her proposal to both other states and key organizations that are leaders in child development:

Delaware, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Rhode Island are a few of the states who have enacted legislation to amend their zero tolerance policies in schools. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association have issued statements effectively condemning zero tolerance policies, given their harmful effects and called instead for students to be disciplined on a case-by-case basis and in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Colorado is the latest state to reconsider its zero tolerance policies in school with the passage of HB 1345 in 2011. This bill encourages each school district to consider many specific factors before suspending or expelling a student and to utilize prevention, intervention, restorative justice, peer mediation, counseling, or other approaches to address student misconduct. Under SB 34, the only circumstances under which expulsion remains mandatory are those that involve a student who is found to have brought a firearm to school or possessed a firearm at school, in accordance with federal law, the Gun-Free School Act of 1994.

Note Senator Tavares’s emphasis in these two paragraphs.  She is not saying that there aren’t behaviors — such as possessing a firearm — that can be ignored and would require severe measures, the Senator is simply emphasizing that the educational experts running our schools should be permitted to discipline students “on a case-by-case basis and in a developmentally appropriate manner”.

Thoughtful legislation like this that empowers principals, teachers, counselors, and other key school personnel by allowing them to “take a holistic approach” when dealing with events involving individual children is something all educators need to get behind.

From a partisan political standpoint, the Republicans who hold the majority in the General Assembly along with Governor John Kasich, should be supporting this bill that provides more educational stability for students, a key factor in reducing the likelihood of a student dropping out of school — the key argument legislators and Kasich made for [wrongly] mandating retention as part of the Third Grade Reading Guarantee.

As Tavares pointed out in her testimony to the Senate Education Committee — zero tolerance policies adversely affect students who often need more school support, not less.  Passage of Senate Bill 34 will ensure that Ohio’s professional educators can work together to provide that extra support.  We encourage you to contact Senator Peggy Lehner, Senate Education Committee Chair, to push for more hearings on Senate Bill 34 and support its swift passage.

You can find Senator Tavares’s complete testimony here.

  • Red Rover

    What about students selling drugs? Get them out of there.

  • goofproof

    Sorry. I usually agree with plunderbund, but not here. I am tired of my own kids constantly threatened, intimidated, and harassed by violent, antisocial students. It degrades the school and burdens the teachers who, rather than focus on families that want an education, are instead forced to deal with a small group of disruptive kids who ruin it for the rest of us.

    Firearms for expulsion is a no brainer. Include knives, drugs, assaults.

  • anastasjoy

    What about a student whose mom put a paring knife in her lunch box? What about this child who kicked a garbage can and is charged with a felony? This article said nothing about kids who get violent or bring guns to school not being expelled or suspended; it merely said each case is decided on its own merits. What about if your kid brought some relatively harmless “weapon” to defend themselves from all this harassment and THEY got expelled? That is what this is about.

  • goofproof

    The last paragraph in the last excerpt says that the only mandatory expulsion is firearms. I am all for helping troubled students, but not at the expense of my own kids’ safety and future. We can argue anecdotes all day. This seems to be more about keeping these dangerous and disruptive students in classrooms by all those other means listed, rather than considering the families who ARE trying to get an education. We always forget them. My own kids are terrified of the homeschool. Too many fights, too much drugs, too much harassment and sexual intimidation. The students seem to want to emulate every thug in the media and lack decency and the ability to behave in a classroom. We were lucky to find alternatives. And this is a suburban, supposedly wealthy school.

  • anastasjoy

    Do you know what the word “mandatory” means? It means “required” not “this is the only circumstances in which it will be allowed.” So what this means is that the teacher can decide to expel the child who threatens another but can use her discretion NOT to expel a kid whose mom put a paring knife in her lunchbox and she didn’t even know it was there and threatened no one.

  • CherMoe

    I can’t even imagine a parent putting a “paring knife” in their kids lunch box. In all my 65 years, I’ve NEVER seen it. And if one does, the parent should be punished for negligence as well as the student being removed.

  • anastasjoy

    You may PERSONALLY have never seen it, but your experience is a tiny microcosm and many cases have been documented of a child whose mother packed sometimes even just a plastic knife and the child was expelled under a “zero tolerance” policy. And no, that is not “negligent.” “Zero tolerance” is idiotic policy even for adults, because everyone makes mistakes. Giving a child NO chance for a hearing, no matter what the circumstances were is both cruel and ineffective. And once again, removing the policy does NOT mean you can’t expel a child who reckless endangers others. It means you aren’t forced to expel a child who doesn’t.

  • john curry

    I am a progressive Dem (also a retired public schools educator) but a friend, who is a professor of school law and a retired superintendent, sent me this info re. this bill and I agree with him totally. As written this bill needs cleaned up. What he says below makes a lot of sense.


    As you know, often the devil is in the details. There is buried language in this bill that would require a “restorative justice” mechanism before a student could be suspended. Legally, this means we must give the offender an opportunity for rehabilitation through reconciliation with his victim. What? So Jack puts his hands on Jennifer, and I need to force Jennifer into a reconciliation session with Jack. Nope, I don’t think so. I already testified against this bill. Another focus of this bill is prohibit suspensions unless there is absolute violence. “So senator, if your son tomorrow walks up and says “screw (a synonym was uesd) you” to his high school principal, you don’t want me to have zero tolerance for that kind of thing. State lawmakers are clueless on what is going on in schools today.

  • goofproof

    No need to be insulting. I will not respond to you again.

  • goofproof

    Once a student took 4 teachers, two police, and a taser to stop a violent outbreak. One teacher went to the ER, another a black eye. The student was in class next week. Legislators are clueless when it comes to education, on both sides of the aisle. What of an innocent student who is badly injured or worse? Is there a bill in the statehouse to protect them?

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