WNPR

Advocates Urge Lawmakers Not To Override Governor's Veto Of School Safety Bill

Jun 25, 2018

It's a scene that many teachers are familiar with -- a student acts out, or even becomes violent, and it's unclear what to do.

"What often happens is the teacher has to almost evacuate the classroom, and you're taking them to another classroom, so now you have 44 kids who now are having their education disrupted as a result of this," said David Hayes, a teacher in Bristol.

Hayes joined over a dozen education experts, advocates and administrators for a roundtable discussion with the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, to talk about how to handle this complicated problem.

Everyone agrees that fewer kids need to be expelled and there should be processes in place to help teachers deal with troubled students. However, not everyone agrees on the best path to get there.

"This bill as written, we believe, misses the mark. It may actually cause some challenges down the road," said Ellen Cohn, deputy commissioner at the State Department of Education.

"This law, at times, bumps up against some of the due process safeguards for students with disabilities," Cohn said. "We foresee racial disparities because racial disparities exist already." 

The proposal would allow teachers to remove students who violate what's being called "daily classroom safety." Those kids could be placed in another classroom. But there’s a legal process that’s supposed to take place for kids with disabilities, or for kids who might have a disability. This change, critics say, would merely exclude kids of color and those with disabilities more often than they already are.

Don Williams, executive director of the Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said the proposal wouldn't have the effect that its critics are claiming. Especially as it relates to the the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which is the federal special education law.

"Federal law applies regardless, we know that," Williams said. "There's nothing in this legislation that is an obstacle or prohibits compliance with IDEA."

But some advocates for special education and racial equity disagree. Many organizations have filed public statements urging the legislature not to overturn the veto. Among the groups that publicly oppose the bill as written include the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, the Connecticut Association of Schools, the Connecticut Council of Administrators of Special Education, the Connecticut Parent Advocacy Center, the Center for Children's Advocacy, and Special Education Equity for Kids of Connecticut.