An effort four years in the making culminated Tuesday when Maryland’s state school board passed new school discipline regulations which roll back the state’s zero-tolerance policies. The policy changes seek to end widespread exclusionary school discipline practices which disproportionately impacted black students as well as students with special needs (PDF).
Maryland came to understand what many zero-tolerance reform advocates have long argued. School discipline practices that remove kids from the classroom for extended periods of time and alienate them from school environments discourage kids from staying in school, advocates argued. Efforts to discipline kids for behavioral missteps were in effect pushing students away from school.
The Baltimore Sun reported:
In 2009, when the state school board began questioning what members saw as the misuse of discipline, large numbers of students were being suspended for not attending school, talking back to a teacher or other minor infractions.
Students in Baltimore County who were found with even small amounts of alcohol could be put in an alternative school for a semester. An Anne Arundel County girl was suspended for carrying pepper spray in her pocketbook to protect herself as she walked to school in the early-morning darkness, as were two Easton lacrosse players who were found to have a pocket knife and lighters, used to fix their sticks, in their gym bags. And a Dorchester County ninth-grader was suspended for nearly a year without any educational services.
Under the new regulations, only students who pose “an imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff” will receive long-term suspensions, and students may still attend school if they are appealing a suspension. Instead of going straight to a punitive response, the new school discipline code calls for a more rehabilitative approach. The new regulations come just three weeks after the Departments of Justice and Education jointly released federal guidelines for school districts around the country to re-evaluate their school discipline practices. The Obama administration urged school districts to follow the lead of states like Maryland which are re-evaluating the efficacy—and harm—of zero-tolerance policies.