Maryland discipline proposals to be changed

State education leaders will make changes to a set of proposals designed to shift student discipline practices in Maryland toward a more “rehabilitative” approach that would reduce suspensions, keep students in school and teach positive behavior.

The Maryland State Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to withdraw proposed regulations and amend them in a way that officials said would not alter the spirit of the reforms but would address some complaints voiced in recent months.

The changes will revive regulatory language that recognizes “an environment of order and discipline necessary for effective learning” and add a preamble that points out the authority of local school boards to create district discipline policies.

The board held firm in its emphasis on rehabilitative practices, as well as its revised definitions for out-of-school suspensions and its requirement that schools provide educational services for suspended students.

It also did not agree to change a proposed requirement that the state’s 24 school systems track data on whether minority and special education students are disproportionately suspended and make efforts to resolve such gaps.

“We are proud of the work we have done in this difficult area,” Board President Charlene M. Dukes said at Tuesday’s meeting. “We are part of a national dialogue on school discipline. We are also a part of a local dialogue. We acknowledge that we have asked our education community to move out of its comfort zone, to realign resources, to consider the devastating effects on students who are suspended long or frequently.“

The discipline regulations the state board proposed in July followed two years of study and several high-profile discipline cases, including the 2011 suicide of a high school football player in neighboring Virginia who had been punished with a protracted suspension and forced school transfer.

The state board had proposed the new regulations to cut back on out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses, keep more students in class and create a less-punitive culture in public schools. Over a period of months, the board heard from educators, students, parents and advocates.

About 800 comments were submitted during the regulatory process that started in July.

The state’s written analysis Tuesday largely responded to suggested amendments from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, Montgomery County Public Schools and Baltimore County Public Schools.

Other changes the board said it would make include appointing a “time-limited” work group and creating an exception to the 10-day turnaround time for decisions in serious discipline cases when delays are caused by students or families.

“They really kept all of the most important things,” said Jane Sundius, of the Open Society Institute-Baltimore, which was involved in the discipline debate. “I think the board made it clear that this is a change that’s coming.”

A Montgomery schools spokesman said Tuesday that the district appreciated the examination and would provide additional comments as the process continues.

Donna St. George writes about education, with an emphasis on Montgomery County schools.
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