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Democrats seek reduced penalties on students assaulting teachers

A bill in the Assembly would reduce the penalties students face for punching teachers. An animating belief behind the bill is that teachers can’t overcome their racial biases.

On Tuesday, Assembly Education Chairman Tyrone Thompson, D-North Las Vegas, presented a measure to revamp school discipline policies. Currently, school officials must expel or suspend students who sell drugs at school or commit a battery that injures a teacher, which makes sense. Along with being crimes, both activities disrupt the learning environment for other students.

But that standard has created a problem for those who refuse to recognize variables other than race. African-American males make up a disproportionate number of the students who are suspended from school. There are various possibilities for this. It could be that a disproportionate number of African-American young men commit those infractions. Or it could be that school staff can’t overcome their explicit or implicit biases to dole out punishment fairly. Or perhaps it’s a combination of the two.

Clark County School District officials accept the second explanation. A 2013 district study asserted that “bias” was the No. 1 cause of the racial disparity in school discipline.

That’s a baseless smear of teachers and administrators. It’s also one that Superintendent Jesus Jara won’t refute.

During an editorial board meeting last year, I asked Jara if he thought there would be fewer suspensions if students exhibited the same behaviors but were all white. He refused to answer. It shouldn’t be hard to say your teachers aren’t racists.

It also raises an interesting question. If racists have infiltrated the school district, how will increasing school funding — and paying racist teachers more — increase student achievement? If the district is racist, Democrats should support private school choice to help students escape.

Instead, Thompson’s Assembly Bill 136 would decrease the punishment faced by students who physically assault their teachers. Rather than mandate removal, the school must provide a plan of “nonpunitive intervention and support.”

It’s only on the second offense that an expulsion is allowed.

The justification for this is that removing a child from school hurts his academic progress. That’s true. But it also harms every other student when one student can terrorize a classroom knowing there’s a “nonpunitive” punishment coming his way. Schools in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia saw student performance decrease after implementing restorative justice programs.

This bill is so bad that even the Nevada State Education Association is issuing tepid warnings about it. The union has “received numerous reports this year of assaulted educators with bruises, broken bones and not to mention the emotional toll,” NSEA lobbyist Alexander Marks said while testifying as neutral.

It’s yet another example of how you can’t fix a broken system by dumping more money into it. You have to get the policy right.

Reducing the penalties on students who injure teachers isn’t the right policy.

Victor Joecks’ column appears in the Opinion section each Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Listen to him discuss his columns each Monday at 9 a.m. with Kevin Wall on 790 Talk Now. Contact him at vjoecks@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4698. Follow @victorjoecks on Twitter.

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