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WHY WE MUST OPPOSE STATE SENATE BILL 2239:

In the name of school safety the

Mississippi State Legislature is on the brink of adopting

THE "GHETTO STUDENT STIGMA BILL"

SB 2239 should be DEFEATED!

SB 2239 is dangerous!


SB 2239 contains the following provisions to stigmatize children:

Any child from Kindergarten through 12th grade who is disciplined twice during a single school year shall be labeled as an "habitually disruptive student" for the rest of the student's life, regardless of mitigating circumstances;

If the student is disciplined a third time during the same year, then the child is automatically expelled without regard to any mitigating circumstances;

SB 2239 does not provide for the removal of the stigma of "Habitually Disruptive Student", regardless of the future conduct of the child. Therefore, a child who is labeled "Habitually Disruptive Student" in kindergarten or the first grade, for example, but who engages in ideal behavior for the next 10 school years, shall nevertheless carry the scarlet letters "H-D-S" when applying for college;

SINCE the denunciation of "habitually disruptive student" is permanent under this bill, and cannot be removed, AND the expulsion for a third offense in a single year is automatic, THEN this bill enables public school officials to refuse ever to allow that student back into school.

SB 2239 is UNCONSTITUTIONAL!

SB 2239 repeals or amends several sections of the state education statutes with regard to school attendance and the suspension and expulsion of students, including but not limited to: 37-7-301; 37-9-71; 37-13-91, and 37-13-92, without any reference to these statutes in pending bill SB 2239;

SB 2239 is in direct conflict with the Mississippi Constitution, Article 3, Section 14, which creates a fundamental right to a public education, T.H., III v. Board of Trustees, 681 So. 2d 110 (Miss. 1996) ;

In 1996, in T.H. III, the Mississippi Supreme Court pointed out:

"[T]he Mississippi Compulsory Attendance Law sets forth the public policy of this state as to the attendance of students in schools.... The legislation...demands that the students continue to receive an education after disciplinary problems.... The Legislature's intent is to keep children in the school environment so that they continue to learn in a more structured environment. Alternative programs prevent the suspended or expelled student from disrupting the regular school program. Simultaneously these programs provide an alternative preferable to allowing the suspended or expelled student to run free on the streets. An unsupervised environment greatly increases the risk of the student's dropping out of school or turning to drugs and crime...."

SB 2239: a "Ghetto Bill"

We are calling this the "Ghetto Student Stigma Bill" because the House Representative from DeSoto County, when speaking in support of the bill, stated in the open meeting of subcommittee 3 of the House Education Committee:

"This bill is not needed in my district. But it is needed in the ghet-to schools because the children there know the rules, you can be sure of that. They know how to use the rules to pit the principal against the teacher to get away with what they do. I taught in the ghet-to schools, up in Memphis, that's right. I didn't have to, but I volunteered. I was very effective, too. I know how those students are."

This kind of stereotyping of African American children is insidious and stigmatizes, and is intended to stigmatize, the children on the basis of race. The state legislature should have no part of this. The Representative from DeSoto County should apologize to the people of the State of Mississippi.

This bill, on its face, applies to all children in the state. But it will be felt most harshly in many of the Delta school districts where white parents still refuse to send their children to desegregated public schools, parental involvement in the public schools is undermined and suppressed, and administrators and teachers resort to numbing discipline, rather than effective teaching methods, as the hallmark of their education policy.

SB 2239 is not needed -- teachers, principals, and school boards have the power under existing law to maintain discipline in the classroom!

At the House Education Committee hearing on SB 2239 the House Representative from Rankin County aptly noted that Mississippi laws already empower teachers and administrators to maintain full control of discipline in their classrooms, school building and school events.

MS Code 37-7-301 empowers school boards to suspend or expel pupils, or to send pupils to alternative school or a home-bound program whenever pupil misconduct disrupts the educational environment or is a detriment to the best interests and welfare of pupils and teachers.

MS Code 37-9-71 empowers school superintendents and principals to suspend or expel pupils for good cause, including misconduct which disrupts the educational environment or is a detriment to the best interests and welfare of the pupils and teacher.

MS Code 37-11-18 requires that students be expelled automatically for a full calendar year for possession of controlled substances, firearms, handguns, knives, or other instruments considered dangerous and capable of causing bodily harm, or who commit violent acts on school property. The superintendent can modify the length of the expulsion and the students have due process rights, including the right of appeal to the school board.

MS Code 37-11-43 subjects a student to suspension or expulsion who wilfully destroys or damages school property, and the parent, guardian or custodian of the student shall be liable for all damages.

SB 2239 sweeps aside all federal and state laws and regulations aimed at helping children to overcome their behavioral problems in order to keep them in school to get an education!

Title I of the Elementary Secondary Education Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are federal laws, implemented through regulations, which are also part of the laws and regulations of the State of Mississippi. These laws and regulations are mandatory: they must be complied with OR, if complaint is brought, our public schools can be denied hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds at a time when our public schools already do not have sufficient resources.

Title I requires each school receiving Title I funds (virtually all Mississippi schools) to develop, implement, and maintain programs designed to identify children who by virtue of their circumstances are at risk of dropping out of school. IDEA requires each school to use CHILDFINDto identify children who, because of learning, physical, emotional or behavioral impairments, need assistance to enable them to obtain a free, appropriate public education, to the extent practicable, in the mainstream of the public school process.

These federal/state laws and regulations create a duty on the part of school officials and a corresponding right on the part of children to:

1. The identification of children in need. Children who get into trouble because of discipline issues are included in ChildFind!

2. An assessment of each child identified to determine the causes of the child's problems and what kinds of assistance the child needs;

3. The development -- by a TEAM of teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists, and any needed specialists, along with the parents of the child -- of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) to guide the school personnel in their work with the child.

4. The provision to the child of whatever special programs or services are needed to ensure that the child has an effective opportunity to receive a free appropriate public education, a fundamental right under the Mississippi Constitution.

Under these federal/state laws and regulations a child cannot lawfully be suspended or expelled from school without regard to, or in defiance of, the requirements of Title I, IDEA, and other related laws and regulations. BUT -- SB 2239 requires the school district to stigmatize the child with the label, "habitually disruptive child", and subsequently automatically to expel a child upon the third offense in a single year, in total disregard to the obligation to protect children at risk of dropping out, and in defiance of the duties and responsibilities set forth in these federal/state laws and regulations described above.

School Safety, Support for Teachers is important -- NOT a BAD BILL!

House Speaker Pro-Tempore Robert Clark of Holmes County said it best at the House Education Committee hearing when he said that school safety and support for teachers are "very important, but this is a bad bill!"

Rep. Clark noted that "We should set up a study committee to take the time to do this right and take this up after the committee does its job." We agree!

SB 2239 is best understood in the context of a REALITY CHECK!

Section 6(1)(a) of SB 2239 defines the behavior for which a child, starting in kindergarten, can be stigmatized as "habitually disruptive":

"Such behaviors include, but are not limited to: foul, profane, obscene, threatening, defiant or abusive language or action toward teachers or other school employees; defiance, ridicule, or verbal attack of teacher; and willful, deliberate and overt acts of disobedience of the directions of a teacher...."

A six year old first grader on two separate occasions during a single school year, once in August, and once in May, persists in trying to tell the teacher that another student has been hitting him, after being told to keep quiet. The child is given a discipline referral each time. That first grade child can be labeled "habitually disruptive" on the grounds that the child deliberately disobeyed the instructions to be quiet. This actually happens in our schools!

A sixth grader on two separate occasions is overheard by a teacher to utter a four letter word in the hallway during quiet conversation with another student....Habitually disruptive? Please!

A teacher calls a child out of her name and demeans her mother in front of the whole class. The child rolls her eyes as she sits down. The teacher gives her a discipline referral for ridiculing the teacher. The principal backs the teacher on the grounds that student are not truthful people. One more incident and she will be treated as "habitually disruptive".

These examples do not begin to scratch the surface of what is going on in many of our schools! We must take a reality check before we consider a bill like SB 2239!

Southern Echo, Inc | PO Box 2450 | Jackson, MS 39225-2450 | (601)-352-1500 | E-Mail: souecho@bellsouth.net
Last modified: Oct 11th, 2004

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