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House approves bill to limit school expulsion

A chain link fence and “No Trespassing” signs surround the Roundhouse, keeping the public away from the building during the 2021 legislative session. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico would impose new limits on the use of out-of-school suspension and expulsion under legislation that passed the state House late Monday.

The proposal, House Bill 93, would prohibit suspending or expelling a student unless it’s a last resort and required for the safety of other students and staff.

Schools would also have to take into account the youngster’s household circumstances, such as whether the student faced poverty, abuse or neglect at home.

Democratic Rep. Raymundo Lara of Chamberino said the proposal is aimed especially at students without homes or in foster care. School may be the only safe place they have, he said, a factor that should be considered before imposing out-of-school suspension or expulsion.

“This bill is intended to help some of our most vulnerable students in New Mexico,” Lara said.

Before suspension or expulsion, the school would have to try restorative justice or other interventions.

Opponents of the bill said it would remove discretion from local educators who are better positioned to determine what discipline is necessary.

“We have taken all authority from our school boards, from our principals, from our superintendents and most especially from the teachers,” Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said.

The House passed the bill on a 54-12 vote, sending it to the Senate with 19 days left in the session.

Lara, who works as a coordinator for the Gadsden Independent School District in southern New Mexico, said the bill targets out-of-school suspension, not the use of in-school suspension.

“The important thing is they continue their education,” Lara said.

In particular, he said, the legislation would address students who “don’t have an adequate place to go home to. This is something that we have to take into consideration before we discipline these students – before we get to the point of suspension.”

The measure passed two House committees before reaching the full chamber.

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