Maryland Moves Forward on New School Discipline Policies

 

The Maryland State Board of Education is moving forward with the adoption of new discipline rules that are in line with proposals made by a statewide work group that has held meetings on the issue over the last two years. Washington Post’s Donna St. George reports that the new regulations would give schools more power to set disciplinary policies and set up better appeals procedures for cases when punishments like suspensions or expulsions are meted out.

The new regulations would also require schools to provide alternative ways for children to catch up on missed schoolwork if they’re suspended for between one and three days. The final vote on the regulations by the full board is expected sometime this summer.

The board has been seeking to reduce out-of-school suspensions, keep more students in class and end racial disparities in discipline. It has emphasized a more rehabilitative approach toward student misconduct.

“I think we have resolved a lot of the confusion around what we were actually doing and what people were afraid we were doing,” board member James DeGraffenreidt Jr. said.

Maryland isn’t the only state to consider or adopt “softer” discipline policies in the past 12 months. Many states moved to relax strict zero-tolerance policies after a federal report found that minority students – especially African-American males – were disproportionally subject to the harshest punishments, including suspensions and expulsions. Being subject to one or the other could present a substantial barrier to graduation, the report argued, and could be one of the reasons for higher dropout rates and lower high school graduation rates among black and Hispanic students.

However, not everyone is welcoming the new approach. In a letter to Denver, Colorado district officials after similar changes were adopted in the district, teachers complained that the relaxed discipline policies made them feel unsafe in their own classrooms. Teachers reported threats of violence from students, including one who said a student threatened to shoot him and another who reported that a student threatened his teachers and classmates with a homemade bomb.

Ordinarily such threats against students and fellow teachers earned at least a suspension, but no longer. Now the district has put pressure on the schools to keep punishments that take students out of class to a minimum. The numbers seem hopeful – expulsions and suspensions in Denver Public Schools feel by nearly 38% in two years. According to Antwan Wilson, Assistant Superintendent, this means that Denver schools are getting safer.