Second chance: Legislation promotes alternatives to school suspensions

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Before he became Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Richmond), he wasn’t exactly a star student.

“I was sort of what you would call in public schools a habitual offender,” he said. “I was that student that was getting suspended.”

Bagby said it was his mentor who helped him turn it around by finding other ways to get through to him.

“I’m here today because Bill Parker saw young Lamont Bagby, the high school student, and wanted to find a way to help him,” he said.

Bagby went on to become a teacher and school administrator himself.

“My first job at Henrico County Schools, believe it or not, was in school suspension,” he said. “And so I tell you, I am well versed in all of this.”

Parents, educators fight back against rising suspension numbers

On Friday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed legislation introduced in the House by Bagby and introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D-Leesburg).

It directs the Board of Education to find alternatives to school suspensions.

“Once we send them home — particularly for more than 10 days — they’re going to come back worse than when we sent them off. It’s sort of a snowball effect,” said Bagby.

Wexton said many students who are acting out in school are doing so because there are problems at home or they’re struggling academically.

“Removing these kids from their schools — where they have structure, they have support — is ultimately counterproductive and perpetuates this cycle of isolation and failure,” she said.

The Center for Public Integrity found that minority students and those with disabilities were referred to law enforcement at a disproportionate rate compared to their classmates.

“Virginia is still number one in the nation for referring kids to the criminal justice system out of our school systems. These bills will help change that,” said Wexton.

McAuliffe said punishment in schools can have lasting effects. Bagby said he believes promoting alternatives to school suspensions will help save school districts funding and time, over time.

“If you suspend or expel a child, you are beginning down a road that will make it much more difficult for that child to get a quality education and to join the workforce and for some we may be unfortunately permanently putting young people aside and we cannot do that to our young children,” he said.

The governor also unveiled updated resources for schools to use as guidelines for school discipline.

To view the Virginia School-Law Enforcement Partnership Guide, click here. Click here for the Virginia School-Law Enforcement Partnership Model Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).