Committee Summary: House Education Committee, March 18

By: Adam Masjid, UpTake Fellow

Minnesota’s House Education Policy Committee met on the afternoon of March 18th, 2022 to move along two pieces of legislation reforming state-wide school discipline policies. Representative and Chair of the Committee Ruth Richardson (52B) authored the first bill presented for a vote: H.F. 951 which mandates uniform standards for student dismissal. The “Full and Equitable Participation in Early Learning Act” would prohibit suspension or expulsion for students grade three or below except in cases where “there is an ongoing serious safety threat to the child or others” in addition to educators having exhausted three “nonexclusionary discipline” strategies such as fostering community and family-based support, creating a structured support plan, and providing a referral to professional support services. Testimony in support of the bill came from a variety of parents, educators, and civil servants mostly speaking on behalf of the Solutions Not Suspensions coalition. Testifiers included Dr. Bernadeia Johnson, former superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, Bloomington parent Idil Abdul, and Adosh Unni, who manages government relations for Minnesota’s Department of Education. Themes from Rep. Richardson’s remarks and testimony included the staggering discrepancy with which students of color—particularly Black and Indigenous students—alongside students with disabilities are suspended compared to their peers. Both complicating and explaining this discrepancy is the pattern wherein students of color are suspended at these disproportionate rates for what testifiers described as subjective standards of behavior such as “school defiance, disrespect, and excessive noise” while white students are near-exclusively suspended for violating what were called objective standards such as smoking, vandalism, assault, and truancy. The bill will advance to review by the Education Finance Committee following the 11-8 vote in its favor. Voting aligned with the committee’s split of 11 DFL members and eight republicans.

Also advancing to the Finance Committee is H.F. 3402, prohibiting exclusion from recess as a form of student discipline. Following a brief debate on the efficacy of demanding that an emotionally de-regulated child sit still during a time when they are supposed to be eating and playing, the bill moves on with a 12-6 vote. Rep. Drazkowski (21B) votes absent and Rep. Urdahl (18A) breaks from his Republican colleagues to voice ascent for the bill.

The last item put to vote was H.F. 4039, modifying the powers of the director for the Office of School Trust Land to be consistent with state standards. Amendments to the bill were suggested and it was referred back to the Committee on Judiciary and Civil Law.

 The meeting was book-ended by what could only be described as an advertisement presented by Ben Rudrud, former law-enforcement and now a private business-owner/consultant invited by Rep. Poston (09A) to pitch his “RIPL Training” for schools to the Committee. Rudrud has been contracted by school districts like Bemidji’s to deliver assemblies that “build relationships” to prevent “really bad stuff.” Rudrud provided little clarity about what the program entailed or what its goals were. Rep. Richardson asked if Rudrud had or was planning to develop an evidence-based program backed by any form of research or statistical significance. Rudrud responded with “we are collecting data.”

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