But the Maryland action
goes further than most initiatives, requiring that the state’s 24 school systems track data to ensure that minority and special education students are not unduly affected by suspensions, expulsions and other disciplinary measures. Disparities would have to be reduced within a year and eliminated within three years.
“It could well be the largest governmental unit that has made this strong a commitment to addressing racial disparities in discipline,” said Russell Skiba, a professor at Indiana University who does research on race and discipline. He called the action “a tremendous step forward.”
The new regulations require local school boards to adopt a rehabilitative philosophy toward discipline and teach students positive behavior. Zero-tolerance policies with automatic consequences would be banned, and long-term suspensions and expulsions are referred to as a last resort.
Board President James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr. said after Tuesday’s vote that Maryland’s main accomplishment was to bring student learning and disciplinary consequences into the same conversation, moving away from the get-tough climate that took hold in schools nationally after the Columbine massacre in Colorado in 1999.
“We have taken the best thinking from around the state and turned out something that is workable for our local districts to implement,” he said. The new regulations — adopted in a 10 to 0 vote with two board members absent — represent “a common-sense change.”
In a report citing data and research studies, the board said its intent was to meet the needs of all students. “No student comes to school ‘perfect’ academically or behaviorally,” the document says. “We do not throw away the imperfect or difficult children.”
The regulations approved Tuesday establish new definitions of suspension — what is short, what is long — and new timetables for rulings and appeals so that fewer students languish out of school. They require that when students are suspended, they must be provided with classwork and a school-based liaison to contact.
In broad terms, the changes are intended to cut back out-of-school suspensions for nonviolent offenses such as disrespect and insubordination and provide more fairness and support for students who are removed.
The board’s report said 54 percent of out-of-school suspensions in Maryland arise from nonviolent offenses. But it stopped short of stepping into the question of when schools may suspend students. “The superintendents and local boards asked that we leave the imposition of appropriate discipline in their hands,” the report says. “We agree.”