House committee advances bill to erase language in law describing minor offenses that lead to school suspensions

Rep. Marcia Morey (Right)

A bill stripping language from current law that provides examples of student conduct that’s not serious enough for suspension or expulsion received a favorable hearing Tuesday before the House Standing Committee on Education – K-12.

House Bill 188 removes from state law the use of inappropriate or disrespectful language, noncompliance with a staff directive, dress code violations and minor physical altercations that do not involve weapons or injury as misconduct that is not serious enough to warrant lengthy suspensions or expulsions.

The bill is sponsored by a team of Republicans including committee leaders Rep. John Torbett of Gaston County and Rep. Hugh Blackwell of Burke County. If passed into law, it would give principals and school boards greater authority to suspend or expel students for offenses that a currently not considered serious enough to warrant those actions.

HB 188 was referred to the Judiciary 1 Committee.

Torbett said the state has been too lax the past 20 years in enforcing school discipline.

“Without discipline that effectively addresses the issue, it will ultimately bring down the demise of our civilization because it will begin to spread out into the general population and get worse and worse and worse,” Torbett said.

As it stands, Torbett said, students are allowed to hurl profanity at teachers without fear of punishment.

“Guys, those days have got to stop,” Torbett said.

A proposed amendment offered by Rep. Marcia Morey, a Durham Democrat, to restore the language the bill strikes from law, failed mostly along party lines.

Morey said it’s important that the state provide guidance about what offenses rise to the level of suspension or expulsion.

“I’m asking that we go back to what’s already been in law, which gives guidance to principals and let’s define what are not serious violations,” Morey said.

Torbett urged colleagues to vote against the amendment, arguing that it would gut HB 188.

Rep. Ken Fontenot, a Republican from Wilson, said that whether violations are serious is a matter of perspective.

“Whose to say what is minor when your bully is 6 feet 3 inches [tall] and you happen to be 4 feet 5 inches [tall]?” Fontenot asked. “Minor is a matter of conjecture and subjective ideas.”

Morey countered that long-term suspension aren’t minor and should be reserved for offenses that are more serious than those described in law as too minor to warrant long-term suspension or expulsion.

“We’re just saying that the worst thing a child needs is a long-term suspension if it is a minor offense, a dress code [violation], not getting out of the bus line, that is minor,” Morey said. “Do not allow that to lead to the most draconian punishment of an out-of-school suspension.”

The former juvenile court judge said that students who serve out-of-school suspensions are more likely to become involved in the juvenile court system than those who have not been suspended.

She also noted the racial disparity in school suspensions.

“Students that are suspended are three to four times more likely to be African American and twice more likely to have disabilities,” Morey said. “Let’s use our common sense and call a minor violation what it is.”

The state’s recent Consolidated Data Report on school discipline and violence show that while consistent with pre-pandemic trends, racial minorities, low-income students and males were more likely to face disciplinary actions such as short- or long-term suspensions or placements in alternative schools for disciplinary reasons.

The largest reported increase from the 2018-19 school year was the rate of long-term suspensions among Black students, which was 85 per 100,000 students in 2018-19 and 103 per 100,000 students in 2021-22.

The current law calls on school boards and other K-12 governing bodies to use “best practices to develop and enforce discipline policies that do not discriminate against students on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender or disability.

State officials compared the 2021-22 school year to the pre-pandemic 2018-19 school year because in-person school attendance was in consistent throughout the pandemic.

HB 188 would also require school board or other governing bodies to include measures districts will take to support students during a suspension and to spell out procedures to be followed by school officials when assigning students to in school suspension.

The bill also encourages school officials to consider in-school suspension over punishment that removes a student from school.

New names for UNC Board of Governors are familiar political faces

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown and “Woody” White.

The North Carolina Senate is poised to add two former Republican legislators to the UNC Board of Governors — a body long criticized as overly partisan, top-heavy with lobbyists and former GOP lawmakers and lacking in diversity.

The Senate’s Select Committee on Nominations met briefly Tuesday morning to consider six names for the board — four reappointments and two new names.

The board members to be reappointed: Joel Ford, Martin Holton, Temple Sloan and Michael Williford.

The two new nominees:

  • Harry Brown, a 16-year veteran of the Senate from Onslow County and former Senate Majority Leader, and
  • Haywood “Woody” White, a former senator and past chair of the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners, who also ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination for a U.S. House seat in 2014.

Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford), a member of committee, pointed out that the two new nominees — both white Republican men — would offer little to a board she said needs to diversify if it wants to actually represent the state and the UNC System.

“This is a very diverse state,” Robinson said. “The university system is a very diverse system. And we need to have a better representation on the board of governors for those universities — women and minorities.”

Robinson, a member of the bipartisan Governor’s Commission on the Governance of Public Universities in North Carolina, said her Senate colleagues need to begin taking diversity concerns seriously.

“The majority of the UNC system are women, yet the board of governors has very few women on it,” Robinson said. “It also does not have many minorities on it as well.”

Of the board’s 24 voting members, five are women and four are Black.

“I nominated a woman last term and she didn’t get anywhere,” Robinson said. “I figured there was no need of me nominating if you’re not going to vote.”

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GOP lawmakers plan to ban more college majors in FL like ethnic studies, ‘radical’ feminist theory

Florida State University. Photo: Diane Rado, Florida Phoenix

State has been a frequent model for NC Republicans

Republican lawmakers are proposing to expand legislation that would further limit majors and minors available to Florida university students, which would exacerbate concerns from faculty and other opponents of the bill that has already shaken up higher education in the state.

The legislation also would further undermine tenure protections for professors.

The bill in question is HB 999 and it’s called Public Postsecondary Educational Institutions. Lawmakers will be discussing an updated version at a Monday committee meeting, where they will decide whether to accept or reject new expanded language in the bill.

The American Association of University Professors said that the proposed language would “enact the most draconian restrictions on higher ed in US history. It bans all majors & minors in ANY critical theory & allow unqualified political appointees to call for post-tenure review of any faculty member at any time,” according to a Saturday tweet.

As currently written, HB 999 prompts the Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, to give “direction to each constituent university on removing from its programs any major or minor in Critical Race Theory, Gender Studies, or Intersectionality, or any derivative major or minor of these belief systems,” according to the legislation.

But lawmakers will consider an expansion to the bill Monday which would direct the Board of Governors to “provide direction to each constituent university to remove from its programs any major or minor that is based on or otherwise utilizes pedagogical methodology associated with Critical Theory, including, but not limited to, Critical Race Theory, Critical Race Studies, Critical Ethnic Studies, Radical Feminist Theory, Radical Gender Theory, Queer Theory, Critical Social Justice, or Intersectionality, as defined in Board of Governors regulation.”

The majors and minors listed in a staff analysis, which is created by the GOP-controlled Legislature, may not reflect what these majors or minors are actually called in other higher education settings. Read more

New Leandro judge sets hearing to determine what’s owed state’s school children

Angus Thompson speaks during Every Child NC rally. (Photo: Greg Childress)

The judge overseeing the long running Leandro school funding lawsuit has given attorneys in the case until March 15 to file briefs on proposed funding amounts before deciding next steps in the case.

Superior Court Judge James Ammons of Cumberland County was appointed to the nearly three-decades old case by Chief Justice Paul Newby in December. A hearing has been scheduled for March 17 to discuss how much money must be transferred to pay for year three of a comprehensive school improvement plan.

At Friday’s hearing, Ammons mostly steered away from matters involving the case that are before other courts. The main issues before his court, he said, are the amount of money due schools, the transfer of that money and possible interventions.

“I have no preconceived opinions, no agenda other than to follow the mandates of the appellate bench, give all parties a fair opportunity to be heard and do my best to render appropriate rulings based on the law and the evidence before me,” Ammons said.

The judge asked attorneys for the plaintiff and defendants to calculate dollar amounts they believe are required to fund the third year of a school improvement plan that was approved by a previous trial judge.

Scott Bazyle, an attorney representing the Hoke County plaintiffs in the Leandro lawsuit, placed the amount at $677.8 million. More than $500 million would go to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction and the rest to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and the UNC System, Bazyle said.

Matthew Tilley, a lawyer for state Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Rockingham and House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, disputed that amount, and asked for more time to come up with an appropriate number.

As Policy Watch previously reported, the N.C. Supreme Court’s Republican majority voted 5-2 last week to reinstate a lower court’s order blocking Superior Judge David Lee’s ruling in November in which he ordered the state to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the first two years of an eight-year school improvement plan. Read more

GOP bill mandating federal Parents Bill of Rights passed by U.S. House committee