The House of Delegates approved legislation Thursday that would significantly curb the practice of suspending or expelling the youngest public school students without first taking other steps to improve their behavior.
The measure now goes to the state Senate, where a committee approved a similar bill Thursday.
Delegates voted 91-48 for the House measure, which bars the suspension or expulsion of prekindergarten, kindergarten, first and second grades students except in narrow circumstances — such as bringing a gun to school.
Students could be suspended for up to nine days in the House version — five in the Senate's — only if a mental health professional determines there is an "imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff" that can't be addressed another way.
The legislation directs that schools provide "intervention and support" for students who are suspended or expelled instead of merely sending them home.
Del. Brooke E. Lierman, the House sponsor, said she's happy with the bill as amended.
"The bill still sends a strong message to the schools and the State Department of Education that the General Assembly does not think it is appropriate to suspend or expel our youngest learners," the Baltimore Democrat said.
If the Senate passes its bill as the committee amended it, the two chambers will have to resolve their differences before the bill becomes law.