Political Notes: Chang-Díaz votes for school discipline reform bill

The state Senate recently approved a school discipline reform bill that reduces unnecessary school suspensions and expulsions, and ensures educational services for many of the state’s most vulnerable students, according to a press release. Local state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz voted for the legislation.

The House also approved the bill and Gov. Deval Patrick signed it into law on Aug. 6.

“Educational opportunity is one of the most fundamental promises we make to our young people,” said Chang-Díaz, according to the press release. “This bill fills in a troubling gap in that promise, and it also makes a down payment on the dropout prevention reforms that continue to be one of my highest priorities.”

The bill aims to have suspensions and expulsions used as a last-resort disciplinary tactic. For those students who are excluded for more than 10 consecutive days, it requires school districts to allow them to continue academic progress through alternative means, such as tutoring and Saturday school.

The bill also requires school districts to report suspensions and expulsions to the state Department of Elementary and Second Education. The department will identify trends or patterns and make the data available to the public.

 AG seeks money from NStar for storm response

State Attorney General Martha Coakley is seeking a $9.7 million fine against NStar for failure to adequately prepare, respond and communicate during Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011 and an October snowstorm later that year, according to a press release.

Jamaica Plain suffered outages and downed trees from the tropical storm.

“NStar’s preparation for these storms was woefully inadequate and much of the power loss suffered by hundreds of thousands of customers could have been avoided,” said Coakley, according to the press release. “The company’s slow response to downed wires created a dangerous public safety situation for towns across the Commonwealth.”

The brief was filed on Aug. 7 with the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU), which has the authority to impose the fine.

It states that NStar officials violated three storm response obligations under the company’s emergency response plan: failing to identify the projected level of severity of the storms; failing to communicate effectively with customers and municipalities; and failing to respond to public safety calls about down wires.

NSTAR said in a press release it was one of the first investor-owned utilities to restore power to its customers in both storms and was able to send crews to assist other utilities in the October snowstorm.

“We disagree with the attorney general’s recommendation given the physical challenges of rebuilding and restoring the electric system following a natural disaster,” said Werner Schweiger, president of NSTAR, according to the press release. “The attorney general is alleging performance violations based on standards that do not exist. We’re hopeful that the DPU will make its final decision based on established standards and actual performance.”

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