Senator Jim Alesi (R,C-Perinton) and Assemblyman Joseph D. Morelle (D-Irondequoit) today announced they were pleased that Governor George E. Pataki signed into law their legislation that will give local school districts more control over punishments students suspended from school will face.
"Currently, school officials and the board of education have no authorization in allowing a suspended student to return to school before the end of the suspension period if the student participates in counseling or specialized classes," said Senator Alesi. "This new law corrects that oversight, allowing school districts, the ones who know individual student’s needs best, more control in the length of punishment and allowing a student who has voluntarily tried to make amends, to return to school early and continue pursuing their education."
"The decision to suspend a student rests with school officials, and the ultimate decision about how best to handle a suspension should rest with them as well," Assemblyman Morelle said. "This bill places more control in the hands of local school districts, and permits students the chance to take responsibility for their own actions in a proactive manner."
"Adoption of the Alesi/Morelle bill gives school boards a wonderful mechanism to meet the needs of all students by allowing disciplinary consequences for non-violent situations to be used as teaching opportunities," said Jeff Crane, superintendent of West Irondequoit Central School District, who helped push for passage of the legislation. "Educators will now have the flexibility to condition a suspended student’s earlier return to school on experiences such as tutoring and participation in counseling and community service."
Under current Education Law, school districts are authorized to suspend a student from attending school, but the Commissioner of Education has held that they cannot attach special provisions to it that would allow an early return to school before the end of the suspension period. Therefore, a student who voluntarily agrees to seek counseling or attend anger management or dispute resolution courses not have been allowed back early if the school deemed the student ready to return to class.
Implementation of this new law will allow individual school districts who have the most in depth knowledge of a student’s needs, handle disciplinary problems on a more case-by-case basis. A student who is a habitual disciplinary problem for the school district, may be suspended for a minimum of seven weeks, but if the student gets the necessary help to combat their problem, a school district may revoke the suspension early, allowing the student to return to class.
"As in most things in life, discipline of children by school districts should not take a one size fits all approach," said Senator Alesi. "In addition to allowing flexibility in the severity of the punishment, this change in the law will allow students to get the necessary counseling or assistance they need in controlling their behavior and making better choices in the future."
"It is always unfortunate when a student’s disciplinary problems reach the point of suspension, but it would be even more unfortunate to limit our options for constructively dealing with those problems," Assemblyman Morelle said. "I believe this new law will provide those options."
"Not only will students return to the classroom more quickly, they will also have the benefit of support services that will assist them in making more appropriate decisions," said Superintendent Crane. "The efforts and collaboration of our legislators and the many educators and organizations that have worked for passage of this bill over the past two-and-a-half years is sincerely appreciated."