BILLS TO WATCH: The SAFE Act: An Opportunity to Stop Suspending and Expelling Kids in Preschool through Third Grade

June 19, 2018 by Jordan Ballinger / legislation

Education has changed a lot in the past 20 to 30 years. At DRO we’ve seen an increase in calls from parents with kids with disabilities who are facing more and more extreme discipline. While it was almost unthinkable in the past that children as young as 3 years old would be kicked out of school, “zero tolerance” policies implemented in the 1990s have made that more common. And because school administrators are making funding stretch more than before, teachers are overworked, and parents are lacking support – this has added up to policies that can make it difficult for children with disabilities to get the free and appropriate public education they have a right to.

Thankfully, there is a bill making its way through Ohio’s legislature that may help put an end to these types of harmful policies.

What You Need to Know

This bill, SB 246, receives its first hearing in the Ohio House this week after passing the Ohio Senate unanimously. SB 246, otherwise known as the SAFE Act (or Supporting Alternatives for Fair Education Act), limits the use of suspensions and expulsions for students in preschool through third grade. Additionally, the legislation requires positive behavior intervention and supports (or PBIS) to be implemented in Ohio schools.

PBIS is a different approach to disclipline than most people are used to. It provides for the flexiblity to treat each kid differently and is scientifically proven to get better outcomes for schools and kids.

Why Aren’t Schools Already Using PBIS?

Currently, PBIS is required only under administrative rules but not yet written into Ohio’s laws, leading many schools to not properly implement the policies. We know schools are not fully following these policies because many schools are still reporting incidents of restraint and seclusion, which would be a rare occurrence in a properly implemented PBIS framework. The most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education shows a total of 8,070 incidents of restraint and seclusion in Ohio – and we know that number is low because many incidents go unreported. 

By requiring schools to adopt PBIS, Ohio can begin to see a reduction in restraints and seclusions in our schools. This would be a positive step forward and would allow for schools to meet federal requirements for students with disabilities. The SAFE Act even includes $2 million in funding to help schools meet this goal.

The SAFE Act is on a Dual Track

The SAFE Act has double the chances to succeed: One in its current form as a standalone bill and another through different bill as its vehicle. So while it’s receiving a first hearing in the Ohio House, it will also be heard as an amendment to Ohio House Bill 318. That bill includes $14 million in funding – including $2 million from the SAFE Act to help schools train school resource officers (SROs) and provide mental health training to school personnel.

We will know what happens in the next two weeks. So far, the only opponent is a charter school advocacy group, the Ohio Coalition for Quality Education. The group has not addressed why they are opposed to eliminating suspensions and exclusions for younger children.

Either way, it’s important that Ohio’s legislators hear about how this bill could benefit all kids and especially kids with disabilities.

To learn more about the legislation and how DRO has been working hard to advocate for students with disabilities, visit our legislative resource page. To give your own feedback on this or any bill in the Ohio Statehouse, contact your Senator and Representative (see the search box in the lower left corner).

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