- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota Senate proposal that would require school boards to expel any student who assaults a teacher for up to a year faced strong opposition Thursday from education officials and students who said it would disproportionately affect pupils of color and those with disabilities.

Republican Sen. David Brown’s bill would require that students be removed from school if they assault a teacher but would allow school boards to decide for how long. In Minnesota, school boards can expel a student for up to 12 months.

Brown’s measure comes after a string assaults against teachers at public schools in the metro area.

“This bill gives our teachers a voice, and lets them know the Legislature thinks their protection is important,” the Republican from Becker said.

Education advocates, students and officials all testified against the bill. The prevailing sentiment was that the bill as its written wouldn’t address underlying issues that students face and would harm minority students and those with disabilities.

Rogelio Salinas, a student at Highland Park High School, said the overly broad definition of assault, which includes someone intending to cause fear, would disproportionately harm students of color. He said there already exists a narrative that these students are “violent, aggressive and that they are going to cause fears for the teachers,” he said.

“This bill allows enough discretion for teachers to use that rhetoric and it’s going to affect our black and brown students in a disproportionate manner that is going to put Minnesota in an even deeper hole with the achievement gap,” he said.

Some lawmakers disagreed with the notion that making a mandatory policy for all student assaults would be unfair to some groups of students.

Sen. Eric Pratt, a Republican from Prior Lake, said instead of increasing inequality in discipline, the proposal mandates that school officials treat all students the same by expelling them.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black, brown, white - you’re treated the same,” he said. “And I think that’s a distinction that’s been lost in some of this conversation.”

The Senate Education Committee didn’t vote on the proposal Thursday, but it did consider another measure that would require school officials to use “nonexclusionary” disciplinary practices, like positive behavior interventions and support, before moving to expel a student.

Many of those who testified in opposition to Brown’s bill came forward and said they supported a more holistic approach to dealing with discipline, noting that just removing a student wouldn’t help them grow.

Brandon Brooks, a member of the Minnesota Education Equity Partnership, said the current disciplinary practices in Minnesota schools do nothing to help correct the issues that struggling students face. He asked lawmakers to consider Sen. Sandy Pappas’ bill, which he said was a more solutions-oriented approach to helping students.

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