RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) - Leaders at Richmond's Henderson Middle School have been actively trying to bring down the number of students who get suspended from the school.
"We've shown about a 15 percent reduction in the last couple of years in the number of suspensions," said Principal Cynthia Heckstall.
Heckstall said she was motivated to make a change because suspended students were returning to school, only to get suspended again.
"So we thought, let's try something different. When they come back, let's put some interventions in place, let's include the family and get the teachers involved," said Heckstall. "So that child has a wraparound support system within the school and outside the school."
On Friday, Gov. Ralph Northam visited the school to ceremonially sign legislation aimed at reforming school discipline. The bills put restrictions on how long students can be suspended.
"When they're not in school, they're not learning," said Northam.
Senate Bill 170 limits most suspensions that occur in preschool through third grade to three days. There was previously no established cap.
"School leads to futures, and what we want to make sure if that every child not only is guaranteed and education but makes sure they're going to grow up and have the best chance at life to succeed," said Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) who introduced the legislation. "These suspensions were hindering that opportunity."
House Bill 1600 reduces the maximum length of long-term suspensions from 364 calendar days to 45 school days.
Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) introduced the legislation. He said attending school means a healthy, safe, stable environment.
"Some of our communities, they're just not good places for children," said Bourne. "And when we suspend our kids, that's when all the trouble starts to happen."
Bourne said, while these bills are a good step in tackling the school-to-prison pipeline, the next step is getting the right resources to school divisions.
"I can tell you many children across Virginia come to school with much more in their backpacks than books. They've experienced trauma at home and in their communities," said Bourne. "We need to make sure we have the professionals and supports and resources at our schools to help address those so we can cut the behavior issues and suspension-type offenses down and absolutely out."
There are exceptions in both bills for cases involving things like weapons or drugs.
They both go into effect July 1.
Watch the video below to hear how Del. Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) says his experience as a teacher shaped his stance on school suspensions. Click the arrow in the upper right to play.
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