Should high school students with pending felony charges be allowed to attend school?
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, believes it should be up to school administrators, which is why he introduced a bill this legislative session to give them that leeway.
Hoffman's House Bill 4775, if approved, would amend the Illinois School Code to allow school districts the option of suspending or expelling a student if he or she has been charged with a violent felony and the charges are pending or if the student has been convicted of a violent felony.
"Right now, school officials don't have the authority to take the steps needed to best protect the safety of their teachers, staff and students," Hoffman said.
The bill introduced by Hoffman earlier this month is modeled after a law in Massachusetts, which allows a student to be suspended if she or he is charged with a felony until the case is resolved -- whether the crime occurred at the school or not.
Caroline Kazakis, education attorney at the Children's Law Center in Lynn, Mass., said the current Massachusetts law passed in 1993 is too broad and applies to all pending felonies, whether it's an attempted murder charge or theft over $250.
"School administrators have not used the discretion they have been given to allow kids to stay in school. In almost every case, there isn't really a lot of thought given to it -- if he has a felony, he's out," Kazakis said. "We have dealt with a 13-year-old who picked up a felony. They get booted from school, and they get left with nothing."
Changes to the current law were passed in 2012 and will go into effect July 1 in Massachusetts, Kazakis said.
"If a student is excluded, schools do have to provide them educational services," she said, whether it is home tutoring, online classes or an alternative school.
The revised law will also put stipulations on the types of felonies a student must be charged with in order to be excluded from school for an extended period of time.
"In Massachusetts although it was passed with the intent to apply to kids who have committed really serious felonies, what happened frequently was kids picked up felony charges for things you would consider less serious and they would get excluded," Kazakis said.
Hoffman hopes to have action taken on House Bill 4775 during the legislative session this spring. The bill is currently assigned to the Elementary and Secondary Education Committee.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or email@example.com.