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New Bill Would Bar Most Suspensions And Expulsions For Arizona Students Under 7

A bill heading to the full Arizona Senate would essentially bar schools from suspending or expelling students 7 or younger.

The exceptions are if the student is endangering the health or safety of others, brings a weapon to school or is involved in the use, or sale, of dangerous drugs.

Rep. Michelle Udall (R-Mesa) says schools need to recognize other options, such as in-school suspensions, for when kids act out.

"That can't be the response to acting out," Udall said. "We need students to learn, they need to get education. And if they don't get the help resolving those behavior issues when they're young then that's going to be compounded as they grow up.''

Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales (D-Tucson) thinks school boards need to reassess their suspension and expulsion policies for all age groups. She says these disciplinary tactics are used disproportionately on students of color. 

But the bill does face some opposition. 

Sen. Tyler Pace (R-Mesa) says he cannot support putting such a restriction into state statutes.

"I do have an issue with us as a legislature telling the principal and the school superintendent and a school board how they should deal with these unique cases,'' Pace said. "I typically don't support legislation that tells people how to do their jobs.''

An Arizona School Boards Association lobbyist, Chris Kotterman, thinks the measure should be narrowed and allow districts to be able to suspend students for up to 10 days.

But Sen. T.J. Shope (R-Coolidge) said while he is "a little bit leery'' of such state regulation, he is not in favor of students being away for multiple days. He says it just burdens the parents.

"I don't know who that necessarily benefits," said Shope, who served 12 years on Coolidge's school governing board. "And I don't know that the student really changes behavior, potentially, after that."

Jill Ryan joined KJZZ in 2020 as a morning reporter, and she is currently a field correspondent and Morning Edition producer.