Alabama House, Teacher, Student

Alabama House Unanimously Passes ‘Teacher Bill Of Rights’ Legislation

The bill received bipartisan support.

On May 7, the Alabama House unanimously passed bill SB157, also referred to as the Teachers Bill of Rights, which lawmakers argue is aimed at addressing unruly students. The bill, once signed into law by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, would take effect during the 2024-2025 school year. Although the bill received bipartisan support, some Democratic legislators questioned if the bill was the answer to how to extend protections to teachers. 

As the Alabama Reflector reports, the vote followed a spirited debate by the Alabama House Education Policy Committee in April. In that meeting, Vic Wilson, the executive director of the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools, expressed concern over what he termed a “two-strikes” policy contained in the bill. Randy Smalley, a Tuscaloosa County School Board member and a district director for the Alabama Association of School Boards, raised concern that the bill would strip control from local procedure and is in conflict with pending student due process bills the association is in favor of passing. 

During the House vote, Rep. Thomas Jackson (D-Thomasville) said that he believed some of the problem comes from teachers who don’t respect their students. “Now, I worked in elementary school, and there were some young teachers in there who didn’t tolerate little boys, Black boys, I’m going to use the term, but the Black teachers didn’t have no problem with those boys.”

Another Democrat, Rep. Patrick Sellers, (D-Birmingham) argued that taking God out of the school system is part of the reason for the disciplinary issues in Alabama schools and seemed to call for a return of corporal punishment. “Y’all might not want to hear what I got to say. When we took God out of school, part of your problem arrived. When you take the paddle out of the hand of the teacher, part of your problem arrived.” Sellers continued, “I have to hear this conversation every single day from my wife because she deals with the discipline in her school. And I tell her everyday you need a resident butt-whooper in your school to handle discipline.”

Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) expressed concerns that suspending students helps bolster the school-to-prison pipeline, saying, “We expel them from the school to the street.” Despite the concerns raised by some Democrats, they still voted with their Republican colleagues. According to a document compiled by the Alabama Education Association, a teachers’ union that pushed for the law, several reported incidents of violence against teachers and inaction from school officials spurred them to lobby for the bill’s passage. 

In February, a report, Only Young Once: Alabama’s Overreliance on School Pushout and For-Profit Youth Incarceration, outlined that Alabama’s willingness to use juvenile detention centers harms Black youth and taxpayers. Delvin Davis, a senior policy analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center and the report’s author, told that he sees a line from Bull O’Connor to the present day. “This isn’t a new problem for Alabama. They’ve been incarcerating young Black youth for a very long time, even going back to Bull Connor. Those kids were incarcerated. They were separated from schools, expelled and suspended from school. We’re seeing that same thing where they are incarcerating and disposing Black kids.”

Davis continued, “There are a lot of community-based alternatives to incarceration where you can divert a child out of the court system, the youth justice system,” Davis said. “You can care for a kid in the community and not disrupt their education and the services that they’re used to school and really think about more of a rehabilitative model that does not require incarceration to do it. These facilities are not really designed for rehabilitation, but more so for punishment and separating kids from society. That’s the system that creates more recidivism.”

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