A bill that won approval by the House Education Committee on March 14 would give North Carolina public school districts more leeway in creating disciplinary policies in classrooms.

House Bill 187, Standards of Student Conduct, would direct school districts to “use best practices to develop and enforce discipline policies that do not discriminate against students on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, or disability.”

Under current statutory law, a series of non-serious violations for school conduct include “the use of inappropriate or disrespectful language, noncompliance with a staff directive, dress code violations, and minor physical altercations that do not involve weapons or injury.” H.B. 187 strikes that language and leaves the determination of what conduct constitutes a major or minor offense up to school principals.

H.B. 187 also encourages school officials “to use in-school suspension over punishment that removes a student from the school building.”

Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, put forward an amendment that would reinstate the language surrounding non-serious offenses, but it was voted down.

“This totally guts the bill and puts it back to the same general practice that we’re under right now, which in my opinion has caused some of the problems that we’re in,” bill sponsor Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said on the amendment.

The measure drops as N.C. public schools have experienced a recent spike in misbehavior, threats against teachers, and crime.

The annual School Pulse Panel, a survey published by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences, reports that more than eight in 10 public schools “have seen stunted behavioral and socioemotional development in their students because of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Across all N.C. high schools, instances of crime and violence increased from 4,850 reported for the 2018-2019 school year to 5,991 reported for the 2021-2022 school year — a 24% increase — according to data recently presented to the State Board of Education.