Kentucky is one of several states to enact stricter punishments for disruptive students amid a post-pandemic spike in school discipline problems. Eight states have considered student discipline legislation this year, according to law Prof. Thalia González of the Center for Racial and Economic Justice at the University of California Law San Francisco. Arizona, Florida, Nevada and West Virginia joined Kentucky in approving new laws, while lawmakers in Nebraska, North Carolina and Texas considered them, Stateline reports. In 2014, the Obama administration issued guidelines urging school districts to use suspension and expulsion “only as a last resort and for appropriately serious infractions,” noting that “youths of color and youths with disabilities are disproportionately impacted” by those punishments. Even though the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines in 2018, many schools continued to follow the earlier guidance.
Critics of suspensions and expulsions cite research showing that schools are more likely to hand them out to students of color, disabled students and English learners. They also point to studies showing that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to end up in the criminal justice system. Instead, many districts placed a greater emphasis on counseling and advising disruptive students. In some places, the approach included a so-called restorative justice strategy that gives classmates the opportunity to tell disruptive students how their behavior is harming everyone. Now, as they grapple with students whose socialization skills suffered during the isolation of pandemic lockdowns, many school districts and states are reviving stricter strategies. In some places, school shootings and the so-called parents’ rights movement have helped fuel the shift. Kentucky’s law states that students can be suspended or expelled from school for, among other things, “willful disobedience or defiance of the authority of the teachers or administrators”; using profanity; assaulting another student or a member of the school staff; threatening violence; using alcohol or drugs; or defacing school property. It requires schools to expel students for at least a year for threatening violence or bringing a weapon to school. The law requires “disciplinary actions, up to and including expulsion” for dealing prescription drugs at school and assaulting students or personnel on school property or at school functions.