New school discipline laws aim to help all kids stay safe and engaged in learning

This is the second post in our education blog series about what legislative changes we can expect for students and schools in the 2019-2020 school year and beyond.

As the new school year quickly approaches, Arkansas’s public schools are preparing to implement several new school discipline laws passed during the 2019 legislative session. Here are a few of the most important new changes now in effect:

  • Arkansas lawmakers took their first step in reducing the use of corporal punishment in our public schools this year. Research shows that corporal punishment, or spanking, is ineffective in improving student behavior and school climate, causes long-term emotional damage to children through adulthood, and is disproportionately used on students of color and students with special needs. Under Act 557 of 2019, schools can no longer use this outdated practice on students who are intellectually disabled, non-ambulatory, non-verbal, or autistic. This bipartisan legislation passed both the House and Senate unanimously. AACF and many other child advocates hope that all schools receiving public funds now will begin phasing out the use of corporal punishment on all students.
  • Many Arkansas public schools have very high rates of exclusionary discipline practices, such as expulsions and suspensions, even for non-violent and non-disruptive behaviors, like truancy. Act 640 now requires schools to improve student engagement and access to education during periods of suspension or expulsion. This Act was informed by recommendations that AACF and other members of the Arkansas Department of Education’s School Discipline Task Force made to the state last fall.
  • Act 709 also requires schools to offer alternative ways for students who have been expelled to continue their education, such as online courses.
  • Arkansas lawmakers also made progress in improving educational opportunities for students who have been referred to juvenile detention centers. Under Act 1089, juveniles who are committed to a facility will be taught to read and provided with dyslexia services, if needed, based on an assessment administered within 30 days of commitment to the Division of Youth Services.

Next Steps

  • The Arkansas Department of Education has begun drafting new rules to implement many of the new discipline laws. Those draft rules will soon be released for public comment before being presented to the State Board of Education for approval. Keep an eye out for updates on ADE’s pending rules webpage, as well as the agendas for upcoming State Board meetings.
  • To learn more about evidence-based school discipline policies and practices that many states and districts are using to keep all kids safe and engaged in learning, see AACF’s recent report, “School Discipline That Works.”
  • Also see AACF’s “Kids at the Capitol 2019: Legislative Summary” to learn more about other important bills that passed (or failed) during the 2019 legislative session on a range of issues affecting children, including education, child welfare, economic security, health, juvenile justice, state tax and budget, ballot initiatives, and immigration policies.
  • Thank your state representatives if they sponsored or voted for legislation to help improve the education and well-being of Arkansas children. You can find your elected officials here on our website.

AACF works year-round on issues affecting the well-being of children and low-income Arkansas families. Keep an eye on our blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest news and updates.