Gov. Dannel Malloy was correct to veto Public Act No. 18-89 (SB 453), an act concerning classroom safety and disruptive behavior. This bill was wrought with inconsistencies, redundant mandates, and ambiguities that would lead to administrative chaos for districts, schools, and classrooms all across the state. Malloy’s veto allows our lawmakers to complete the difficult task of constructing meaningful and comprehensive legislation during a full session in 2019.
More importantly, students and parents, especially students and parents of color, were rightly placed as the priority in this case by the Malloy administration. If we are serious about increasing educational access for all children, closing all opportunity gaps, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline, our elected officials who have expressed a sincere desire to promote education equity should allow the veto to stand and address this important issue with educators, parents, students, and service providers in 2019.
School safety is an important issue for all. While we believe all education professionals deserve to be free from assault in the workplace, there are numerous statutory protections in place already. Furthermore, new and more responsive school and classroom management strategies have proliferated to some degree in Connecticut and need more time to gain a foothold.
This bill would destroy some of the foundations that new teaching and learning strategies have been built upon. These include increased focus on social-emotional learning; diagnosing and treating urban trauma and adverse childhood experiences (ACES); and the replacement of punitive discipline policies with restorative practices. The results of these evidence-based strategies would be clouded with the implementation of SB 453’s mandates and this would further widen the gap between problems and solutions.
As an organization that advocates for policies and practices that would stop the school-to-prison pipeline and that trains educators on how to use alternatives to punitive discipline practices, we never thought that a bill proposal like SB 453, with all of its implications, including the ways it would uphold institutionally racist practices, would ever make it out of the Education Committee.
However, Connecticut’s largest teachers union boldly and proudly supported it because some of its membership was asking for more resources. They should be heard, but this bill is not the answer to this dilemma. Furthering this dilemma is the fact that not a single student or single parent supported the bill and only a few bold organizations came out in opposition to it.
Regretfully we didn’t join them during the session opposing SB 453.
Lastly, millions of student, teacher, and administrator experiences have been cataloged and many of them lead to the same conclusions.
- Teachers need autonomy to fully access their potential to positively influence students and school environments (Wilches, 2007). SB 453, because of new mandates reduces teacher autonomy.
- The data is clear: students perform at lower levels and feel less safe when schools are over policed by policies and mandates that push them from the classroom into the school-to-prison pipeline. The data also reveals that students who experience exclusionary discipline (suspensions and expulsions) are more likely to enter the criminal justice system than students who don’t. As an unintended consequence, SB 453 would decrease the instructional time for our most vulnerable students. The resulting isolation would further disenfranchise these students resulting in lower levels of school connectedness and academic performance as well as higher incarceration rates (Shollenberger, 2013).
- School climate and school safety are connected more to administrative leadership and attitudes, the existence of high academic expectations for all students, and the prevalence of culturally sustaining pedagogies than they are connected to burdensome, redundant, and ineffective exclusionary discipline policies and practices (Steinberg, Allensworth and Johnson, 2012).
Despite the promotion of Public Act No. 18-89 (SB453) as a pro-teacher piece of legislation that would further empower educators to push students to mental health professionals, we believe the risks of criminalizing or pathologizing adolescent behavior far outweigh any perceived benefits.
The bottom line is that Public Act No. 18-89 would exacerbate many of problematic power dynamics that currently exist in schools between educators and students who are under-protected, especially students of color.
For these reasons and more, our state legislators should let the veto stand.
Robert M. Goodrich is co-founder of Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education in Waterbury.