LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A new law requires Arkansas schools to let expelled students continue their education.

Republicans first sponsored a bill to allow students who were suspended or expelled to receive credit. It also gives superintendents more discretion in the future to modify the penalties for suspension and expulsion on a case-by-case basis, and requires school districts to review discipline policies and state and district discipline data every year to recommend changes if needed.

After that passed, Democrats ran a bill to update the state’s 2013 digital learning law to include expelled students. Starting next school year, districts will have to offer online courses or other services available so those students can receive credit during the course of their expulsion. 

“There was a juvenile in her court who had been expelled from school,” St. Rep. Don Glover, D-Dermott, said as he started to present the bill on the House floor. 

A judge brought the idea to Glover, a retired judge and lawyer, after a student was expelled for a year for carrying a pocket knife. That student wasn’t in court for that offense. According to Glover, he didn’t hurt anyone, but the judge believed the school’s sentence hurt him.

While some expelled students could transfer to a private school or move to a different district, this particular student didn’t have an alternative.

“Not able to do anything but enhance their chances of becoming a statistic in our prison system,” Glover said.  

Despite concerns from lawmakers and superintendents about cost and internet access, the proposal passed the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support.

“I would say that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there is funding that would follow,” Johnny Key, the Arkansas Education Commissioner, told lawmakers during a House Education Committee meeting.  

Even though the students are expelled, Key said schools will still receive foundation funding, about $6,600 per student, under this new law as long as the students don’t transfer. That’s how he said districts will be able to provide laptops and other materials to complete the courses.

It will ultimately be up to each district to decide how to roll this out. 

Under current rules, students face expulsion if they bring a gun or other weapon to school, or engage in some sort of violent conduct.