Bill proposed in Minnesota would prevent early childhood students from being suspended, expelled

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A proposed bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Education Policy Committee would prohibit students from kindergarten through third grade from being suspended or dismissed unless there is an ongoing safety threat or all other support plans have failed.

HF951 was brought by Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights.

“If kids are not in school, we cannot close gaps,” Richardson said.

Richardson said it’s needed because there’s a pattern of discrimination with who is suspended or expelled, and that needs to end.

“The reality of different treatment is exactly why this bill is needed. Looking at the data, the number one reason students are being suspended falls under the category of disruptive, disorderly conduct, or insubordination with the disproportionate push out of Black, Indigenous, and students with disabilities comes harmful short and long-term consequences,” Richardson said.

A parent advocate was visibly shaken while speaking about her young student being suspended for five days.

“I just want to speak with you from the heart of the parent, who has a child, who has autism,” Idil Abdull said. “If you were doing what you were supposed to do, you do not suspend children with disabilities due to behavior that is because of their disability. So I am heartbroken every day. I am traumatized every day.”

The idea is to support with positive reinforcement, not punishment.

"Young students that present behavior at school really need support, as those behaviors are always the students’ way of saying, ‘I have needs that aren’t being met,’” said Maren Hulden, attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid.

But Jason Luksik, principal in Bemidji, said the bill would limit the school’s ability to choose how to address student behavior.

“As a principal, that would take away the ability to suspend a student if we were working with that student and that family,” Luksik said.

Many House Education Policy Committee said questions still remain.

“I understand the importance of a bill like this. At the same time, I don’t want to have our teachers in the classroom with their hands tied behind their back when they have a student that is acting out,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

There was no vote on Wednesday on the bill. Instead, the bill was laid for possible inclusion in an omnibus policy bill.