Tuesday, April 27, 2010

School Discipline Bill Passes House

Sorry readers for the length between recent posts. At DSEA we have been in a fury of activities including our Representative Assembly, events around RTTT, the weekly march of the legislature, and some spirited school board races.

Today in the House an interesting debate took place around House Bill 347, sponsored by Representative Mike Barbieri. The bill was one of the initiatives to come from the School Discipline Task Force which was comprised of legislators, educators, administrators, law enforcement, and even the judiciary.

Under current Delaware law, school administrators must report certain misdemeanors to the police and initiate prosecution for any student age 9 or older. This law combined with school districts' "no tolerance" discipline codes has led to some abuses. There have been cases in Delaware of children finding themselves in a great deal of trouble for innocently bringing to school such items as cake knives for class parties or miniature Swiss army knives. In fact, Delaware has never made national news for a small child getting away with a school crime, but we have made national news for a small child being threatened with placement in an alternative school for bringing his tiny pocket knife to school.

HB 347 raised the mandatory police reporting age to 12. However, school administrators would have to report incidents to the superintendent, who in turn would have to report to the Delaware Department of Education.

Notice that the bill changed the mandatory reporting of those below age 12. Administrators would be allowed to use their discretion. For serious offenses a child below the age of 12 could have the police called on him/her. Moreover, nothing in the bill would stop an individual educator from calling the police if he/she were assaulted by a student under 12. Also, any parent could call the police and file a report on a child under 12 if they chose.

The intent of the bill was to give schools more flexibility in dealing with the offenses of children. After all, in the vast majority of cases educators, not policeman, should be dealing with the misbehavior of children. Again, nothing would stop an administrator or educator from calling the police on a younger child; but at their professional discretion, not by mandate.

The old saying is that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. For supporters of the bill, it seemed like hell at various times today. A few articulate opponents of the bill attempted to change the story for this bill from one of a technical change for discipline flexibility, to a "soft on discipline" or "send the wrong message" piece of legislation. That rhetoric then had the effect of causing a great deal of over-thinking and second guessing.

Courageous and reasonable words from Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf, a former State Trooper, helped get things back on track for the bill. At least enough for the sponsor to push ahead with a roll call vote that netted him a victory of 22 yes, 9 no, 8 not voting.

1 comment:

  1. Whew! Thankfully cooler heads prevailed. Zero Tolerance is a dismal failure: