New State Bill Would Lower Suspensions To Third Grade
OKLAHOMA CITY - As Oklahoma class sizes continue to grow, and as funding for schools shrink, teachers are at their wits’ end, trying to deal with unruly students. But a new Oklahoma bill is looking for a solution to the problem by lowering the state's out-of-school suspension grade from sixth to third.
Authored by Sen. Ron Sharp, R-Shawnee, Senate Bill 81 would change state law to include children as young as 9-years-old in the state's suspension policy.
Currently, only students from 6-12 grade are allowed to receive out of school suspension as a punishment; something that teachers say is needed even if it is unconventional.
“We don't like suspensions, but the answer that the most districts, and I guess our state, has is that you deal with it in the classroom just isn't sufficient,” Oklahoma City American Federation of Teachers President Ed Allen said.
Allen said classes are constantly disrupted, with 1,500 students deemed chronically disruptive in OKC alone. The situation in some schools has gotten so bad that a teacher last year had her ankle broken by and elementary student who kicked her in class, he added.
“Why should the 98 percent of students have to suffer physical assault from other students because we really don't have the answer,” Allen said.
But there are fears about harming kids who may need help the most: Those students with special needs. Oklahoma's track record for suspending special-ed. students is one of the worst in the country, suspending 11 percent of special needs students compared to just 6 percent of their general-ed. peers, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education.
“It polarizes,” Erin Taylor said.
Taylor has a 14-year-old son with a disability. She also serves as a parent advocate for the Oklahoma Developmental Disabilities Council.
“It pits teacher versus students and teacher versus parent.”
The council works partially with families with children with disabilities throughout the state. Advocates there said suspending students, especially those with disabilities a bad reputation, potentially one that could follow them throughout their academic career.
“Kids don’t wake up wanting to have a meltdown. They’re there to learn,” Council advocate and former special education teacher Jennifer Randle said.