There are certain bad behaviors that Wayne Whigham does not tolerate in schools.
“If it’s drugs, or a gun, then you’ve got to go,” Whigham said Thursday night to a group of teachers, parents and support staff.
But if a student needs to be suspended or expelled, Whigham said, that is not where the conversation should end.
“There needs to be lessons,” he said. “The kids we fail to educate today, we pay for tomorrow.”
Whigham, the director of Montgomery County Public Schools appeals and transfer team, spoke at a forum hosted by the Montgomery County Education Association’s Minority Affairs Committee.
The forum was held to discuss the changes that the Maryland State Board of Education has proposed for school suspension policies.
It is an important discussion, because there are inconsistencies between schools as to how students are punished, and some prejudices may come into play, participants said Thursday.
The state board’s proposed changes, released in February, require school systems to address the suspension disparities among races.
In public high schools in spring 2011, 9.8 percent of black students received out-of-school suspensions, compared to 5 percent of Hispanic or Latino students and 2.1 percent of white students, according to the county school system’s safety at a glance report.
The changes require school systems to come up with a plan within one year to close those gaps, and, within three years, the disparities must be gone.
When Robert Murphy, a specialist of state education department school completion and alterative programs, told the crowd that Thursday, some snickered.
Christopher Lloyd, board vice president of the association, said that it will be tough to do.
“This will not go away over night,” he said.
Laurie Halverson, the vice president of educational issues of Montgomery County Council Parent Teacher Association, who drafted a memo on behalf of the organization, said that the state report mistakenly assumes that unfairness of school administration is the reason a higher percentage of minority students compared to white students are suspended or expelled.
Murphy said that, in talking to black boys across the state — the group with the highest suspension rate — the students stated that they wanted respect.
“They said, ‘Our teachers don’t smile at us, they look at us like we are criminals,’” he said.
Relationships are important, and some teachers fail to make that connection with their classes, said Zoraida Brown, a math content teacher at Waters Landing Elementary School.
The changes also require schools to put suspended students back in school within 10 days, unless keeping them out of school is the only way to ensure that the school is safe.
Tamara Hill, a transition support teacher at Watkins Mill High, said that teachers have to make sure that their students are safe, but also need to make sure that teachers reach out to the children, to see why the bad behavior is happening.
“We have to get that attitude as teachers that, ‘You are our students, we have to keep you here,’” she said.