Assembly puts brakes on discipline problems

By Greg Gelpi

Driving privileges could be yanked for students who skip too much school, aren't in school or get in serious trouble.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's comprehensive school discipline legislation passed both sides of the General Assembly. The differences between both houses' legislation are being ironed out in a conference committee.

"Our teachers are a valuable resource, deserving of the utmost respect," Perdue said in a statement. "With overwhelming passage of my Student Discipline legislation, we are empowering teachers with the tools necessary to maintain order in their classrooms and foster a positive learning environment. It's my hope that the conference committee will quickly resolve differences between the House and Senate versions and send the bill to my desk."

Georgia Senate Bill 428 prohibits minors from receiving a driver's license or learning permit for a number of reasons, including dropping out of school and not pursuing a general educational development (GED) degree, having 10 or more unexcused absences in a semester or two consecutive quarters or being suspended from school for several reasons.

The reasons include "threatening, striking or causing bodily harm to a teacher or other school personnel," having or selling drugs on school campus, possessing a weapon at school, causing serious bodily harm and some sexual offenses.

Clayton County Juvenile Court Judge Steve Teske expressed mixed emotions about the legislation.

"I agree, and then I have concerns," Teske said about revoking driving privileges.

He said some students drop out of school or can't finish school for reasons other than discipline reasons.

Teske was also concerned because the legislation extended zero tolerance from third grade down to cover all grades, including kindergarten.

"The younger years are still so tender," he said. "Their minds are still being formed."

The legislation also allows teachers to kick students out of class more easily and establishes a collaborative committee of school, law enforcement and court agencies to tackle truancy and discipline problems for each county. Clayton County already has such a collaborative committee.

An amendment was added in conference committee Thursday that would postpone holding third grade students who don't pass the reading portion of the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests.

Third-graders are supposed to be held back if they don't pass the reading portion of the CRCT starting this year.