Connecticut educators debate next steps on discipline

HARTFORD — Connecticut teachers, superintendents and state education officials on Tuesday debated the next steps for student discipline following the governor's veto of a bill that sought to set new standards for dealing with misbehaving students.

The bill aimed to help protect teachers from injury by removing children who are acting out in violent ways. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he vetoed the bill because it would have had a disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities.

At a hearing hosted by the Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors, educators and advocates shared their perspectives on how to help teachers deal with disruptive students.

David Hayes, president of the Bristol Federation of Teachers, said the proposed measure would have helped clear up misunderstandings among some administrators over when it's appropriate to suspend a student. In some cases, he said administrators may be reluctant to remove students from classrooms for fear that disciplining high numbers would reflect poorly on the school.

"From the average teacher's perspective there is a real frustration that not enough is done for these kids," he said.

The Connecticut Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, urged lawmakers to try to override the governor's veto. Its director, Donald Williams, said at the meeting that the measure would have helped to deal with problems before they escalate to where students run into trouble with law enforcement.

"When it becomes a community problem, it becomes a criminal justice problem," he said.

Westbrook Superintendent Patricia Ciccone said she has welcomed a shift toward providing meaningful consequences for students, but she had a number of concerns regarding the bill. She said it remained unclear where children removed from the classroom would go, and teachers likely would face significant pressure from parents of the children.

Charlene Russell-Tucker, the chief operating officer for the state Department of Education, said work remains to be done to ensure children removed from the classroom would be sent to quality learning environments.

She said minorities are over-represented among students facing discipline and, in many cases, they are in trouble for violating school policies.

 

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