Update: The House Education Committee approved HB 1421 by a vote of 8-5. That sends it to the full House for possible amendments and further consideration. If it passes the House, it will go to the Senate for more of the same. Supporters said the bill is a “work in progress” that needs to be revised to ensure that it’s effective. But they said punitive discipline is a serious issue that lawmakers should address.
Indiana child advocates are promoting legislation that would discourage schools from suspending and expelling students and encourage “positive discipline strategies” that keep students in school.
The legislation, House Bill 1421, is scheduled to be heard this morning by the House Education Committee. It would revise state law on school discipline to prioritize positive, research-based approaches, including restorative justice and culturally responsive practices.
“Our interest is in keeping kids in school and preventing them from going into the criminal-justice system,” said JauNae Hanger, president of the Children’s Policy and Law Initiative of Indiana.
The legislation calls on school corporations to create policies that reduce suspensions and expulsions and address disparities in how students are disciplined. It says students should be removed from school only for serious offenses, not for being tardy or skipping school. Students should be arrested or referred to law enforcement only to protect public safety, the bill says.
Also supporting HB 1421 are the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy, Marion County public defenders and experts on child psychology, special education and social work.
Harsh and racially disparate discipline is an issue in schools across the country, and it’s arguably worse in Indiana than in most other states. In 2012-13, the most recent year for which data are available, one in 10 Indiana students were suspended, and one in five African-American students were suspended.
In Marion County (Indianapolis), 14,260 students were suspended in the 2015-16 school year, according to the initiative. Rates were low in some schools but high in others. Ten Marion County schools reported suspension rates of over 50 percent.
The bill is likely to face opposition from education groups, especially organizations of principals and superintendents, who are under pressure to keep schools safe and orderly. The Indiana School Boards Association has suggested revisions to the bill, and Hanger said her group is open to changes.
“We know there are legitimate concerns, and we’re not trying to tie the hands of schools,” she said. “Whether this succeeds this session or not, we want to work with educators to come up with something that does work.”