Lombardo presents flagship school discipline bill with districts, teacher union in support
In a rare move, Gov. Joe Lombardo testified before state lawmakers on Thursday in support of his bill revising a contentious 2019 restorative justice law that school districts and others have said ultimately limited teachers’ ability to deal with disruptive or violent students.
The bill, AB330, dubbed the “Safer and Supportive Schools Act” by supporters, was presented by Lombardo and a host of supporters during a hearing in the Assembly Education Committee Thursday. It seeks to achieve a campaign promise Lombardo made to repeal the changes implemented by a 2019 bill (AB168) that removed requirements for students to be automatically expelled for certain violent acts and established “restorative justice” policies — practices involving nonpunitive intervention and support to improve student behavior.
AB168 was part of an effort to address the disproportionate rates of suspensions and expulsions affecting students of color and decrease the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which refers to practices that push kids out of school and into the criminal justice system. But the bill has since been blamed by teachers’ unions and school districts for limiting their response to increasingly violent student behavior.
Lombardo stressed the urgency of his bill, which comes on the heels of a shooting at a Denver high school that resulted in the injury of two administrators. According to Lombardo, there were more than 6,800 violent incidents reported at Clark County schools within the first six months of the school year. He added that since 2019, there has been a 46 percent increase in violence and sexual assaults reported within the district. He noted that the issue isn’t limited to just Clark County schools.
“I believe this bill has wide-reaching support because educators, administrators and community leaders alike see the need for reform in our schools,” Lombardo said. “Just as diverse education stakeholders have come together in support of this bill, I believe we can all put our party differences aside to support AB330.”
The bill is being supported by the state’s 17 county-level superintendents, the Clark County Education Association (CCEA), the Clark County Association of School Administrators and the Charter School Association of Nevada.
Many representatives of those organizations also came out last week in support of two similar bills, AB285 and AB194, that are being pushed by both Republican and Democratic sponsors. During Thursday’s hearing, multiple educators came out to share their experiences dealing with violent students who receive little to no discipline afterwards.
CCEA Executive Director John Vellardita said he was encouraged to see the different bills, and took it as a sign of acknowledgement that student behaviors in Nevada are getting out of hand.
“We encourage both parties, the executive branch and the legislative branch to come to some kind of terms where we can pass legislation … that essentially says it's not acceptable for students to engage in violent behavior on other students, as well as other staff,” he said.
But some Democratic lawmakers who are also active teachers raised issues with a provision in Lombardo’s bill that would allow principals to block a teacher or staff member's ability to temporarily remove students, if they find the removal unnecessary. Assemblywoman Selena La Rue Hatch (D-Reno), a teacher in Washoe County, called it “the most anti-teacher language” she has seen in a bill.
“I think that it will, in fact, make my classroom more dangerous, and I am just very confused on the messaging today because we are being told we want to give more power to the people that are there in the classrooms and that is the exact opposite of what this does,” she said.
Nevada Superintendent of Public Instruction Jhone Ebert pushed back, and said teachers can appeal a principal’s decision, either to a superintendent or administrative head.
The bill would allow for students who are homeless or in foster care to be suspended or expelled for no more than five days “if the principal determines that the conduct of the pupil poses an ongoing threat.” Another section of the bill allows school officials to expel students with a disability if they determine the behavior is not a manifestation of the student’s disability.
It also contains a provision that would allow for the automatic expulsion of students of any age who batter and injure a school employee or sell or distribute drugs after their first offense. The bill also allows for those students to be placed in an alternative school setting after their first offense. It directs schools to create a plan based on restorative justice practices on how the student could return to the school, but students would be permanently expelled after their second offense.
Chris Daly with the Nevada State Education Association suggested that language be amended to take into account minor offenses that don’t necessarily warrant an automatic expulsion.
“This could include low-level drug offenses or even a very young student who bites a school employee, even with no malice,” he said. “That student should not be permanently expelled.”
NSEA said it supports other bills aimed at revising the 2019 restorative justice law (AB285 and AB194), which differed from Lombardo’s bill in not including the automatic expulsion provisions as well as the language limiting teachers from removing students.
Paul LaMarca with the Washoe County School District said the district is fully in support of the bill as written.
He said the district assisted in drafting some of the language, and those sections of the bill have established high standards.
“No one wants to exclude students and there are times when students do things that require immediate action because of the safety of the school community at large, other students, staff members and that student in particular,” he said. “So we are wanting greater latitude and how we can support these students.”
Lombardo’s push for repealing the 2019 law comes with support from the Better Nevada PAC — a group that spent millions of dollars to support his campaign for governor. The PAC publicized a digital advertisement Wednesday highlighting violence in schools and Lombardo’s push to change school safety policies. It also highlighted polling showing support for Lombardo’s school safety plans, though it has not publicly released details of the poll. The ad comes via the Service First Fund, which is seeking petition signatures from Nevadans in support of Lombardo’s bill.
A fourth bill focused on school discipline and sponsored by GOP senators, SB152, is also making its way through the Legislature.
This story was updated 3/23/23 at 6:40 p.m. to include comments made at a March 23 legislative meeting.
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