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A Missouri lawmaker wants to end school suspensions in lower grades

Missouri Rep. Ian Mackey, D-Richmond Heights
Jason Rosenbaum
St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, wants to prohibit school suspensions in Missouri in grades K-3 and to discourage them in other grades.

A proposed Missouri state law would discourage school suspensions in all grades and ban them in kindergarten through third grade, as was recommended by the Ferguson Commission in 2015.

Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis, is sponsoring the legislation that would prohibit nearly all suspensions in lower grades, taking discretion away from school administrators. That is the policy already followed in Mackey’s hometown.

In Kansas City, suspensions are not permitted through fifth grade, except in instances in which students present dangers to themselves or others or have broken the law.

“It serves no purpose. It serves no punitive purpose. The consequences don’t inhibit future behavior. They don’t compel better behavior in the future, and they throw families into chaos,” said Mackey.

“Republican and Democratic lawmakers across the state agree that more must be done to end the school-to-prison pipeline,” Mackey said. “We should start by reforming how our state’s youngest students are disciplined at school.”

To encourage alternatives, the legislation would require that school districts report all suspensions issued and the reasons for them. That would include what are called “shadow suspensions,” which occur during a school day when parents are asked to pick up and remove a child from school.

Opponents warn the legislation could strip school administrators of necessary authority to use their judgment in student discipline. They say administrators must be able to make sure one student does not interfere with the learning of other students.

“When a child is exhibiting a challenging behavior—6, 7, 8 years old—the job of the adult in that situation is not to engage in a power struggle, not to remove the challenge from the room in order for the day to go on. It’s to address the challenge at the core and to try to solve it,” responded Mackey, who said he believes all schools need enough counselors and other resources to address discipline challenges.