Never have so many people reached out to my office than when Christian McGhee was suspended from Davidson County Schools. Everyone who had heard about the suspension was taken aback, and rightfully so. How could saying “illegal alien,” in the context of its legal definition, warrant a three-day suspension?

I had questions myself, and after talking with Christian’s parents and school personnel, it became clear that changes had to be made. As a state lawmaker, it’s not my job to issue suspensions. But it is my job to improve our laws, and this incident proved our laws on short-term suspensions were inadequate.

Outside of the buffoonery of suspending a student for using the term illegal alien — especially in the context as described in recent court filings, which make it clear there was no racist intent — there were major issues with the administration of the suspension.

The first was the lack of details given to Christian and his parents on why he was suspended. In the suspension notice, school personnel simply scribbled “6.11 Using/making racially motivated comment which disrupts class.” A parent can’t reasonably come to an understanding of why their child was suspended if they’re only given a couple of hastily written sentences. Parents deserve an explanation that is more than the bare minimum.

The second glaring issue is that Christian had no opportunity to appeal the suspension. Currently, long-term suspensions can be appealed, but there is no statutory right to appeal a short-term suspension, even though they can run up to 10 days. If a student is being kicked out of school for two weeks, there should be an opportunity to push back. If there was a clear violation, the school has nothing to worry about.

Lastly, students who are given short-term suspensions currently have no opportunity to remove the demerit from their record. A tainted record can have a severe negative impact on a student when applying for post-secondary education. We can’t risk the future of the youth based on a mistake made by a teenager or misguided suspension issued by a school.

The legislation I proposed fixes these issues. It requires schools to accept an eyewitness report of an incident that could result in a short-term suspension. If a suspension is given, the bill requires the school to provide students with documentation detailing the specific code of conduct that was violated. Additionally, it expands opportunities to appeal and expunge short-term suspensions so that students won’t be locked into what may have been an erroneous suspension.

These reforms are commonsense and support students, parents, and schools. They will help give students the right to fair discipline, ensure parents receive detailed information on why their child is being suspended, and provide schools with more defined guidelines on how to handle short-term suspension disputes. I commend my fellow senators for voting in favor of House Bill 207 and urge lawmakers in the North Carolina House to vote in favor as well. Our students and parents deserve to have a better system of resolve for when suspensions are given.