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Three Strikes and You’re Out (of the School System)

UPDATE: The bill will move to the Senate over the Feb 4th weekend. Please call your Virgnia senator's office now to ask them to "Just say NO to HB 1461." It doesn't matter on what side of the aisle they sit, they should want to keep your kids in school.

House Bill 1461 would require the Virginia Department of Education to establish a uniform system for disciplining disruptive behavior in class and removing a student from the classroom. For non-violent “disruptive” behavior, the bill would implement a three strikes and you’re out policy. “Disruptive” in this bill is so broadly defined that it is unclear as to what exactly qualifies a child for removal. Each and every parent should ask themselves: “Could my K-12 child’s common behaviors be considered disruptive?”

For parents of neuro-diverse children, this bill is our worst nightmare. Underlying neurodivergence, like autism or ADHD, is impulse control, or more specifically, lack-thereof. These children have trouble “self-regulating” and struggle to control their initial responses to certain situations. Any parent of a neurodiverse child can tell you, if a situation isn’t just right or if there is a change to a regular schedule or if for some reason his shirt just “doesn’t feel right,” the odds of an impulsive (read, “disruptive”) response increases. Crying, yelling, ripping paper. He acts first…thinks about consequences later. This isn’t because he doesn’t want to, it is because he isn’t able to. It takes years of practice, therapy, and patience to turn this around.

But under HB 1461, he no longer has years. Before he has had a chance to calm down, a task that can take an excruciatingly long time for a kid who has to work twice as hard to overcome his own brain to do so, he’s out. And let’s be clear, “out” in this context will most likely mean “seclusion,” a practice that is traumatizing and creates worse behavior. Before he has reached the end of first grade, he’s been effectively criminalized for something he cannot control yet. Criminalized for being different. Criminalized for being a kindergartner.

Parents of neurodiverse children know our kids are different. We know that we are different when we are taking our kids to expensive occupational therapy (usually not covered by insurance) to learn impulse control skills. We know they are different when we are spending hours of our day calling different pharmacies to track down medications that are in short supply. We know they are different when we are trying to navigate the byzantine 504 plan/ IEP process, sometimes begging school administrators to give our kids what they need to thrive in school.

We spent nights awake worrying that despite all we do to help, if we even have the time and money to get that help, the world may still be cruel to them. With HB 1461, Delegates Wiley and Fowler are guaranteeing that our kids WILL be singled-out, punished, and excluded based on behaviors that they cannot control.. Not only does this violate the terms of their individualized education plans, but this also violates their right to Free and Appropriate Public Education.

Please share your opposition to HB 1461 by clicking on the button below.

State clearly to “Vote NO on HB 1461” and provide your reasoning or story, knowing that your comments will be public.

UPDATE: Please call your senator

Our guest blogger, Melissa Alfano, is a mother of an extraordinary kindergartener in Fairfax County. When she is not fighting for her kids (and yours) she is an energy policy expert focusing on climate change issues.

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