On May 23, the Senate Education Committee took an important first step by unanimously approving Senate Bill 2081, which bans public school expulsions and suspensions for students in preschool through second grade, except as provided in the “Zero Tolerance for Guns Act.”
The bill also requires early detection and prevention programs for behavioral issues in students in preschool through second grade and provides suggested behavioral supports that schools may choose to incorporate in their programs. These include “remediation of problem behaviors, positive reinforcements, supportive interventions, and referral services.” Currently, early detection and prevention programs are not mandated, and suspensions are banned only for preschoolers.
Shira Baron, Education Law Center’s Equal Justice Works Fellow, presented testimony to the Committee in support of S2081.
S2081 marks a pivotal shift in New Jersey’s approach to school discipline aimed at significantly reducing the number of young children who lose time in school or are pushed out of school altogether through the imposition of suspensions and expulsions.
S2081 also shifts the focus on early detection and prevention programs critical for addressing the needs of children who exhibit behavioral issues at a young age. These programs are geared towards providing interventions for children in desperate need of positive behavioral supports and resources to give them the tools they need to succeed in school.
ELC recommended extending S2081 to cover children in third through fifth grade. ELC’s testimony noted that the significant and harmful effects of suspensions and expulsions are well known and thoroughly documented, particularly for children in elementary school.
As Ms. Baron testified, children throughout the elementary school grades would greatly benefit from early detection and prevention and from positive behavioral support programs. Ms. Baron recommended that these programs be expanded to include trauma-informed education and restorative justice practices. She noted that these supports are particularly designed to address the learning needs of children impacted by trauma and to provide schools with alternative approaches to discipline.
“S2081, by restricting the use of expulsions and suspensions and by requiring early detection and prevention programs, is a critical first step to ensure young children remain in the classroom with the necessary supports,” Ms. Baron said. “We thank Senators Ruiz, Turner and Allen for sponsoring this bill, and we urge its quick passage by the Legislature.”
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