There is a bill in the General Assembly that puts preschool and elementary (up to grade 3) students and teachers at risk. The suspension/expulsion rate for students in preschool through third grade has skyrocketed. Instead of asking why this is happening, our representatives did what legislators do, solve a problem they legislated into existence with more legislation that serves only to create more problems.
Student behavior has gotten worse in the early grades because of a $51 million grant Georgia received from the federal government for birth to 5-year-old education that set the standards and behavior modification practices for Georgia’s lottery funded preschools, overseen by an appointee (HB 401, 2015).
Student behavior has also gotten worse because of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program (PBIS) Georgia lottery funded preschools and K-12 schools are using because of several other laws that award school rating points to schools that use PBIS (SB 410, 2012) or require schools to use PBIS based on low school climate ratings (SB 164, 2015).
PBIS assumes students will behave if the teacher sets the right environment and gives out plenty of positive reinforcement. Negative consequences for misbehavior are frowned upon. Now the legislators are alarmed because more students at these early ages are getting suspended or expelled?
To solve the problem, here’s what our state representatives voted for, “(b) No student in public preschool through third grade shall be expelled or suspended from school for five or more consecutive or cumulative days during a school year without first receiving a multi-tiered system of supports, such as response to intervention, unless such student possessed a weapon …” (HB 740, lines 26-29, 2018)
What is the result? A teacher must spend months attempting interventions and collecting evidence to prove that the student is not behaving. The evidence goes into the federally-sponsored statewide longitudinal database.
If the behavior does not improve, the students move up to the next tier in the multi-tiered system of supports where they receive additional psychological interventions. Teachers are told to “deescalate” the student behavior. Meanwhile, the teacher and the other students must witness out of control student behavior day after day.
Where are the parents in all of this? NCLB required parental consent for psychological testing. In ESSA, informed written parental consent is required for mental-health assessment or service, however, there are some exceptions to that requirement, “… a child whose parent has not responded to the notice …” may participate in any mental health assessment or service (ESSA, Sec. 4001, pg. 2008-2009, 2015)
If HB 740 passes in the Georgia Senate, mental-health assessments through the multi-tiered system of supports will be required before a student is suspended or expelled for more than 5 days in a year in preschool up to third grade.
With the new loophole in ESSA that eliminates the need for parental consent if the notice requesting consent is not returned, expect more students to be labeled with all sorts of mental health or behavioral deficiencies — all because students are expected to behave without ever getting punished.
This bill is wrong for the student who is misbehaving, it is wrong for the teacher who will be tasked with documenting poor behavior instead of punishing it, and it is wrong for the other students in the class who must endure the class disruptions.
Dr. Mary Kay Bacallao