liza

MAC supports bill to reduce student arrests for non-violent offenses

Liza Hirsch, a Staff Attorney at MAC, testified on June 6th in support of H. 328, “An Act decriminalizing non-violent and verbal student misconduct.” MAC signed on to endorse this bill along with 26 other member organizations of the Coalition for Smart Responses to Student Behavior under the advocacy leadership of the Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee (MHLAC).

The bill, sponsored by Representatives Aaron Vega and Elizabeth Malia and Senator Pat Jehlen, aims to decriminalize student misconduct, and sets standards for Memoranda of Understanding between school superintendents and chiefs of police to reduce the number of arrests in schools for non-violent offenses. The bill would also provide a hiring preference for resource officers with experience in child development, encourage training focused on issues such as the impact of trauma, implicit bias, and de-escalation techniques, and would set stricter standards for documentation of in-school arrests.

Hirsch’s testimony was based on her experiences as Full Service Community School Manager at the Peck Middle School in Holyoke from August 2014-March 2015, where she exposed patterns of abuse, punitive discipline, and over-policing of students. As part of her testimony, Hirsch brought attention to the disproportionate use of school-based arrests on low-income students, black and Latino students, and students with disabilities.  She described a school climate in which “twelve and 13-year-old children were taken out of the school in handcuffs, as crowds of their peers stood by and watched.”  See the full text of her testimony here. MAC’s participation on the Coalition for Smart Responses to Student Behavior relates to the work of MAC-led coalitions, the Education Law Task Force and the School Discipline Chapter 222 Coalition.  The goal of all of these coalitions is to keep kids in school and on a path to achieving their potential, rather than on a path to prison or other life challenges.

Click here for a fact sheet from MHLAC about this bill.