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Maryland School Board Moves to Limit Student Suspensions

Washington Post

28 February 2012 - Original Source

By Donna St. George

BALTIMORE — The Maryland State Board of Education moved Tuesday to cut the number of students suspended from school, saying that such punishment is used too often for nonviolent offenses and that too much class time gets lost.

Drawing a link to achievement gaps, the board also endorsed findings that out-of-school suspensions disproportionately affect minorities and special education students.

A detailed written plan the board unveiled would redefine the vocabulary of suspension — what is short, what is long — and require Maryland’s 24 school systems to pay far closer attention to whom they suspend and why.

The state would require close tracking of racial disparities in each school system. In some cases, local officials would be required to create plans to reduce disparities in one year and eliminate them over three years.

“What we’re trying to do is to prompt people to think differently about discipline, with an eye toward achievement for all students,” board President James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr. said in an interview.

In the 36-page document, the board said it aimed to keep students in school as much as possible and require educational support for those who do get removed. Now, about 23 percent of suspended students in Maryland get services to help them keep up while they are out of school.

Tuesday’s action followed lengthy study. Several discipline cases figured in the deliberations, board members said, including the suicide of a student disciplined in neighboring Virginia and the suspension of a Maryland student involved in a fight who languished for most of the school year with no educational services.

The board will allow public comment on the plan until March 30. It will take up the issue again April 24, with final action on proposed regulations expected at some point afterward.

Under the plan, the state also would require school systems to keep detailed data on campus arrests, citing a federal initiative to address the so-called “school-to-prison pipeline.”

But walking a careful line, the board sought to shift thinking on discipline across the state without being too prescriptive.

“The superintendents and local boards have asked that we leave the imposition of appropriate discipline in their hands,” the report said. “We agree.” No reforms would specifically address which offenses could lead to out-of-school discipline, it said.

Suspensions for nonviolent offenses, such as insubordination or classroom disturbance, account for more than 63 percent of all out-of-school suspensions in the state.

“We would hope to reduce that number to as close to zero as possible,” DeGraffenreidt said.

The plan envisions that disciplinary