By Clair McFarland, General Assignment Reporter
Wyoming lawmakers on Wednesday advanced a proposed law change requiring the state Superintendent of Public Instruction set statewide guidelines for public-school suspension and expulsion policies.
Senate File 48, if it becomes law, would mandate that the state’s education superintendent, Megan Degenfelder, develop model rules and policies outlining best practices for student discipline in public schools, including suspending and expelling students.
Inconsistency Across Districts
Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, advocated for the bill in a Wednesday meeting of the Senate Education Committee, saying SF 48 is meant to give uniform standards for how suspension and expulsion “could or should” be handled by schools.
During the months before the lawmaking session that convened this week, the committee found that “different (school) districts were doing different things well – and different districts were doing different things not quite as well,” Rothfuss said.
The committee heard from a speaker who said the uniform change is needed, and from other speakers who said it could be used to reduce expulsions and suspensions, and also could increase violent acts from undisciplined youth.
Suspension, Expulsion ‘Doesn’t Work’
Donna Sheen, director of the Wyoming Children’s Law Center and a member of the Wyoming Youth Justice Coalition, backed the bill in a testimony before the committee, saying that the state gives broad discretion for such policies, and that “exclusionary discipline,” according to recent studies, “doesn’t work.”
“It doesn’t improve school safety,” said Sheen, who said students’ behavioral issues often are undiagnosed disabilities, and expelling them can make their behavior worse.
Sheen also said a statewide guideline would give parents a reference point to address when they feel schools have suspended their children arbitrarily or unfairly.
Kathy Scigliano, chairwoman of the Laramie County Moms For Liberty chapter, said she hadn’t planned to testify against the bill, but chose to after hearing Sheen’s testimony.
Scigliano said she fears the bill could be used as a “cop-out” to reduce expulsions and suspensions.
“(For) students that have had multiple behavioral issues within the school that they attending … there should be consequence,” said Scigliano.
She referenced the school-shooting case of Nikolas Cruz of Florida, aka the “Parkland Shooter.”
“The school system failed him; and they failed all of those students that were killed that day,” Scigliano said. “He had multiple infractions, they did nothing about it. They swept a lot of it under the rug.”
Another speaker, Moms For Liberty member Mark Moody, said the law could cause “problems” if Wyoming elects a superintendent who believes schools should not suspend or expel students.
Rothfuss thanked Scigliano and Moody for their testimonies, and said that the wording of the bill should be gentle enough to avoid the scenarios of which they warned.
The bill contains “the idea of providing guidance and best practices, as opposed to saying ‘thou shalt,’” said Rothfuss. “So that the superintendent would not be telling school districts what they can and can’t do, but hopefully working together with professional judgement panels that come together around the state and figure out what are best practices.”
Rothfuss said that many school districts now use systems that “don’t work.”