How one state is putting the lid on student misbehavior by empowering teachers

House Bill 538 would allow teachers in Kentucky to immediately remove disruptive students from the classroom with no possibility of returning without an agreement from the teacher and a school administrator.

If you were to speak with any teacher who plans on leaving the profession soon, ask them why. Chances are they’ll cite stress and inadequate pay. But you might also hear that student behavior is simply out of control. At least, that’s what most teachers now believe, according to recent research.

According to a recent dual-survey report from the education company EAB at the School Superintendent Association (AASA) National Conference on Education, 84% of teachers say students are developmentally behind in relationship building and self-regulation compared to pre-pandemic levels. Consequently, they’re reporting a dramatic increase in classroom disruptions.

This belief is shared among district leaders as well. According to the data, 81% of superintendents agree that student behavior has worsened since the pandemic, which has led to difficulty finding and retaining school staff and even to district leaders committing to abandoning the profession within the next three years.

The numbers don’t lie. In fact, it’s a conversation that’s being held in board meetings across the country. For instance, teachers in Hudson, New York filled an auditorium last Wednesday eagerly waiting to hear from the school board and superintendent on how they will address the district’s recent spike in fights among students.

“There are physical fights almost daily,” said one of the teachers, according to CBS 6 WRGB in Albany, NY. “There is violence and destruction of school property weekly. There is verbal abuse daily and bullying. In the halls, students are constantly roaming the halls instead of going to class.”

In Newport News, Virginia, several teachers shared their frustrations about student behavior during a teacher union meeting several weeks ago. One of their biggest concerns was the shooting at Richneck Elementary School in January where a six-year-old shot his first-grade teacher.

Union President Dr. James Graves told News 3 WTKR that there should be concrete consequences for students not following directions and disrupting class.

“That’s what I’ve been hearing from teachers all along—what are we doing to do with students who continue to have an issue in our schools? And we’re working on that.”

So, how can educators and leaders start putting their collective foot down? In one state, they’re trying to shift the balance of power back to those who should have had it in the first place: the teachers.

On Friday, the Kentucky House passed House Bill 538, a school discipline law that seeks to dissolve classroom disruptions by giving teachers the option to take immediate action to dismiss out-of-control students from the room. It’s not meant to increase school suspensions, according to Republican Rep. Timmy Truett. Yet, he said such change is needed in order to give teachers and students the learning environment they deserve.

“The bill will make public education better,” he told AP News.

Its passing comes at a time when state legislators are seeking innovative ways to improve teacher recruitment and retention, a problem that has plagued nearly every state across the nation since the pandemic.

According to the bill, teachers can remove students from the classroom on the spot without any plans to return unless that student receives an agreement from the teacher and an administrator. If a student has to be removed from the classroom three times in one month by the same teacher, then they are labeled “chronically disruptive” and suspended from the school. Additionally, principals can remove students from a classroom indefinitely if they feel their presence would “chronically disrupt the education process for others.” If this ever becomes the case, that student would be assigned to another classroom or some alternative program.

“The goal of this is to empower teachers to control what happens inside their classrooms,” Truett said during a committee hearing.

It also clarifies how to handle students who make threats or pose a danger to students or staff, which would result in a student being expelled for at least one year.

“We don’t want to expel kids,” Truett said during the committee hearing. “We don’t want kids outside the school setting. But this bill would open up that opportunity of using virtual as an option as opposed to a student being chronically disruptive inside the classroom.”

According to Republican Rep. Steve Riley, it’s simply time to put an end to bad behavior in the classroom.

“The status quo cannot continue in our schools,” he said during Friday’s debate. “Every child is important. But we cannot continue to have a system where we let a child continuously disrupt a classroom and keep the other 29 students from learning.”

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a District Administration staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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