Georgia State Legislature Unanimously Approves Landmark Zero Tolerance Discipline Bill

ATLANTA (April 29, 2010) – A unanimous vote by the entire Georgia General Assembly today makes Georgia one of the first states in the country to restrain excessive zero tolerance discipline policies in schools.  The landmark legislation by Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) received final passage on the last day of the 2010 Legislative Session, and now goes before the governor for his signature before it can become law.

“This legislation gives kids in Georgia a voice.  They will now have due process against a policy that makes no distinction between well-behaved students who make youthful mistakes and those whose misconduct warrants harsher punishment,” said Jones.  “It’s time we start applying some common-sense when disciplining our children, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach.” 

Senate Bill 299 makes allowances for students who commit infractions without any intent to harm others.  The bill changes Georgia’s juvenile criminal code to make a first offense equal to a delinquent act, rather than a designated felony.  Now, when a student commits an infraction, juvenile court judges can take the circumstances into account before automatically prosecuting them, giving the judges more discretion.      

Across the country, students are being expelled for bringing Tweety Bird key chains or plastic guns for show-and-tell to school because of stringent zero tolerance policies.  Commonly referred to as a “pipeline to prison,” these policies can result in entrapping kids into a life of crime after they are exposed to the juvenile justice system.  A report by UCLA’s Civil Rights Project entitled “Opportunities Suspended: The Devastating Consequences of Zero Tolerance and School Discipline Policies,” notes the upswing in the number of children who are criminally charged and calling it “one of the most detrimental effects of Zero Tolerance Policies.”

The bill constitutes Jones’ signature piece of legislation this year, a measure he began working on prior to the start of the 2010 Session.  Jones took up the torch to limit zero tolerance abuses after intervening on behalf of a 14-year-old Morgan County student who was expelled for accidentally bringing a pocket knife to school.  Even after turning in the pocket knife to his principal, the student was expelled from school and sent to a youth detention center overnight before he received a hearing from a judge. 

The bill received early support from Judge Steven Teske, immediate past president of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges of Georgia.  After meeting with Judge Teske, Jones modeled the legislation after a program the judge established in Clayton County.  Eric John, executive director of the Council, testified in support of the bill as it moved through the legislative process and emphasized that judges want and need the legislation to deal with disciplinary problems in the school systems.  “After meeting with Judge Teske, I was inspired to complete the task and ensure that we changed the law to put Senate Bill 299 on the books,” added Jones.   

He has worked closely with legislative leaders to ensure passage of the bill, and upon its final passage expressed his gratitude for their support.  “I would like to thank the lieutenant governor for his strong support of the bill from the beginning.  I’d also like to thank both chambers of the legislature for their unanimous support of Senate Bill 299, which will protect the rights of Georgia’s schoolchildren.  This is a victory for our students, parents, school administrators and juvenile court judges across the state; it’s a win-win for everyone.”     

For Immediate Release:
April 29, 2010
For Information Contact:
Kallarin Richards, Senior Communication Specialist