Bills target human trafficking and preschool suspensions

Bills target human trafficking and preschool suspensions

(Calif.) A legislative panel moved one step closer to requiring teachers and students learn how to spot the signs of child sex trafficking, in action at the Capitol Wednesday

Meanwhile, the Senate Education Committee also voted to move a bill that would prohibit state preschool providers from expelling or un-enrolling toddlers for bad behavior unless the child presents a persistent and serious safety threat to themselves or other kids.

In response to California’s recent distinction as having the highest rate of human trafficking in the U.S., Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, introduced AB 1227 aimed at preventing future cases of human trafficking through age-appropriate classroom instruction.

“This bill seeks to attack the problem of human trafficking at the root,” Bonta said at the hearing. “The goal is to not only identify students who are actively being trafficked, but also to reduce the number of students who become victims, buyers or even traffickers.

“Trained teachers and administrators would know the signs of human trafficking and be able to respond and connect students with the services that they need,” he said.

Data collected by the D.C.-based nonprofit Polaris Project, which runs the national trafficking reporting hotline, shows that cases of reported human trafficking continue to increase each year, with the most significant increase in 2016. More than 7,500 cases were reported to the hotlines last year, compared to nearly 5,500 in 2015.

Polaris officials attribute much of the increase to greater awareness of human sex or labor trafficking, but also note that human trafficking has become more lucrative for criminals who used to focus primarily on drug dealing or smuggling.

In Florida, which has the third highest rate in the U.S. for human trafficking according to Polaris data, lawmakers introduced similar legislation earlier this year to require middle and high school health classes to include lessons on the dangers of human trafficking, as well as how to spot the signs to identify victims or traffickers.

Polaris data shows that California alone counted for more than 1,300 of the nation’s reported cases of human trafficking–nearly doubling any other state.. In February, police arrested almost 500 people in raids around Los Angeles leading to the rescue of more than 50 victims, 28 of whom were children.

AB 1227 will require public schools to include human trafficking among the comprehensive sexual health education, focusing on the prevalence, nature, and strategies to reduce the risk of human trafficking, techniques to set healthy boundaries, and how to safely seek assistance, among other lessons.

According to Bonta’s office, the bill will address the vital aspect of prevention by educating our young people to identify the dangers and avoid becoming exploited in the first place. Additionally, he said during the committee meeting, “successful prevention education can not only eliminate the trauma a survivor has to endure, but it also the potential to save the state millions of dollars.”

A second bill that moved through the education committee would prohibit state preschool providers from expelling the state’s youngest learners for bad behavior except in the most serious circumstances.

AB 752, authored by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, preschools would be required to pursue and document reasonable steps taken to maintain the child’s safe participation in the program if they exhibit persistent and serious challenging behaviors.

The bill is one of many nationwide that have been introduced following release of a report from the U.S. Department of Education that showed almost 7,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2013-14 school year, and that African American children were 3.6 times more likely to be suspended from preschool than their white peers, especially in schools with zero tolerance disciplinary policies.

Such findings have prompted district- or state-wide bans on out-of-school suspensions for young children in New York, Minnesota, Texas and Illinois.

In 2014, California enacted the nation’s first statewide ban on K-3 suspensions for “willful defiance,” and St. Louis Public Schools’ followed suit last year. AB 752 would essentially expand the law to include toddlers enrolled in state pre-K programs.

“Given the well-established evidence on the benefits for young children of attending a high quality preschool program, particularly in terms of closing the achievement gap, it is deeply concerning that expulsions occur at such a high rate, affecting children (and their families) at a crucial time in their development,” Rubio said.

Both AB 752 and AB 1227 will move to the Senate Human Services committee.

To report suspicious activity, call the Polaris Project’s National Human Trafficking Hotline hotline at (888)373-7888 or text 233-733.