Pictured from left to right: Dr. Harold Benus, University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor; Sheila Lacks, Knoxville attorney; Renée Wilson-Simmons, ACE Awareness Foundation Executive Director; Representative Harold Love; Governor Bill Lee; Ray Sechrengost, National Alliance on Mental Illness; Representative Katrina Robinson; and Charlie Caswell, executive director of Legacy of Legends Community Development Corporation. Photo courtesy of Gov. Bill Lee.

On September 3, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed legislation that would direct educators statewide to consider each child’s history of trauma exposure along with classroom behavior when deciding his or her disciplinary fate. Senate Bill 170 requires school systems to come up with plans for assessing the extent of a student’s exposure to adverse childhood experiences and for considering that emotional history when meting out major disciplinary actions such as suspension, alternative schooling, or expulsion.

Sen. Katrina Robinson, who is serving her first term in the Tennessee General Assembly, sponsored the bill; co-sponsors were Senators Brenda Gilmore, Raumesh Akbari, and Jeff Yarbro. The bill calls for local education agencies and public charter schools to adopt a trauma-informed discipline policy and requires the department of education to develop guidance on trauma-informed discipline practices that the agencies must use. ACE Awareness Foundation Executive Director Renée Wilson-Simmons was among a small group of advocates who attended the ceremonial bill signing in Nashville at Senator Robinson’s invitation.

In a statement provided to the Daily Memphian, Robinson said the law would affect schools with students ranging from kindergarten through 12th grade, and is designed to help educators get at the full context of student misbehavior, as well as an understanding of why resources and support — rather than exclusion — might be needed.

“We live in a state where one in five children live in poverty. When a child goes to school without the proper supplies and is not certain where their next meal is coming from, we can’t expect them to exhibit perfect behavior,” Robinson said. “The same goes for children who are victims of abuse and neglect within their home.”

You can find the full bill summary here.