Democrats say school discipline differs based on students’ race, want suspension prohibited

Richardson said this bill is essential in working toward closing the “achievement gap” between students.

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A bill introduced in the Minnesota House would prevent students in prekindergarten through third grade from being suspended or expelled as a disciplinary measure.

“Disparities based on race and disability are persistent in school discipline and inextricably linked to the state’s severe achievement and opportunity gaps,” an article from the Minnesota House Public Information Services Office states.

Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, who authored the bill, argued that student discipline often differs based on the race of the student.

“The data is clear — student misbehavior is being addressed differently across race lines and disability,” Richardson said.

In Minnesota, Black and Indigenous students are 10 times more likely to be suspended or expelled than white students, according to the article.

Richardson said the bill is essential in working toward closing the “achievement gap” between students.

“We cannot talk about the opportunity gap without talking about the school discipline disparity,” Richardson said during a March 3 hearing on the bill. “We cannot talk about the achievement gap without acknowledging if kids are not in the classroom, they are going to have barriers meeting developmental and learning milestones.”

Richardson also noted that suspension in early school years impacts high school graduation rates and the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The bill would require that all other disciplinary measures be taken before considering suspension for young students, including creating written plans that explain what kind of support the child requires; working with the child’s family, doctor, or education specialist; or “providing a referral for needed support services,” according to the bill language.

If a student appears to be a safety threat, or all other disciplinary actions have been used, then the student may be suspended.

The bill expands on a 2020 law that prevented only prekindergarten children from being suspended.

According to information from the House, those against the bill argue that districts should be able to regulate what disciplinary actions work best for their students. Teachers should also have the authority to dismiss students if they are causing disruptions to the learning environment.

“I certainly understand that a kid can’t learn if they’re not in the classroom, but if they’re disruptive while they’re in the classroom they’re not learning then either,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

The bill was held over by the House because of potential inclusion in an omnibus bill, and does have a companion bill in the Senate.