BY CARRIE HODOUSEK
CHARLESTON — State Board of Education President Paul Hardesty said he has concerns about a new law that would require school principals to suspend a student if they’ve been removed from a classroom more than three times within a month.
“This is a train wreck waiting to happen,” Hardesty recently told members of the state Board of Education.
HB 2890, which modifies student discipline in the classroom, was approved by state lawmakers earlier this year.
The law requires students in kindergarten through 12th grade who are removed from the classroom for disruptive behavior be prohibited from returning to the classroom for the remainder of the day. It would be counted as an in-school suspension. If the student is kicked out of class more than three times within a month, the student must receive an out-of-school suspension.
“I just heard about this for the first time,” Hardesty said during last week’s board meeting.
The law was brought up while Drew McClanahan, director of Leadership Development with the West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE), was providing an update on the state’s school discipline plan.
McClanahan said the law puts schools that don’t have an in-school suspension program at a disadvantage.
“It does tie the hands of a principal. If you do not have an in-school suspension program in your school, it means that a one-day minimum suspension must occur if there are three removals in a calendar month,” he said.
The removal is “as determined by the teacher,” according to the law. Hardesty said he doesn’t agree with that. He said some teachers, including substitutes, are not properly trained to respond to disruptive behavior, especially among students with special needs.
“We take a long-term sub and put them in a classroom who has no training and now we give them the capacity to basically, and I hate to use the word for the legal term, become arbitrary and capricious in their actions for a child to get kicked out of school,” he said. “It may be well-intended, but you’re not hitting what you’re shooting at.”
Sponsors of the bill previously said students have a right to receive an education, but they also have a responsibility to behave in the classroom.
Over the last several years, concern has been raised about racial disparities when it comes to student discipline. More than 28,000 students were suspended in 2022, according to WVDE. Of those students, about one out of every five Black students was suspended at least one time compared to 10% of white students.
The numbers, released in May, showed the average K-12 student that was suspended in 2022 lost about six days of classroom instruction. The data also highlighted disciplines for foster care students, low-socioeconomic status students, homeless students and disabled students.
This fall, about 300 principals statewide are expected to attend regional sessions that address student behavior, data protocol practices and classroom management strategies.
While that training is taking place, McClanahan said the public is welcome to view the state’s Discipline Data Dashboard.
“We believe that it will give the public an opportunity to see what types of discipline are being used at the school. They can break it down by different sub-groups and different demographic groups. We can see if there are continued trends of foster care students that are getting suspended maybe at higher rates — special education students, Black students, poor students, etc.,” he said.