Changes to suspension rules could leave students in schools -- Gazette.Net







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A suspension would no longer send a student home, but to an alternative structured, educational environment, if one state senator has his way during the 2013 legislative session.

As the Maryland state board of education also looks to revise guidelines on suspensions and expulsions, state Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Dist. 21) of College Park said he wants to see all local school systems create an alternative placement, either centralized or at the school level, that allows suspended and expelled students to keep up with their school work.

“We want to make sure when kids are disruptive, they’re not disrupting other kids’ education, and they’re not denied education themselves,” said Rosapepe, who plans to introduce a bill next spring in Annapolis proposing a statewide policy to ensure education continues even when students are suspended or expelled.

Rosapepe said there would be no additional cost to local school systems for providing a structured alternative to suspensions, because the number of students in a school or in the school system would remain the same, though the students’ location would change while suspended.

Prince George’s County accounted for 19,800 of the state’s 129,100 in- and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions during the 2010-2011 school year, according to data from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Suspensions are handled on a school-by-school basis, depending on the location and culture of the school, said Karyn Lynch, the county school system’s chief of student services.

At Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine, where there were 370 suspensions and expulsions in the 2010-2011 school year, suspended students muck stalls and bale hay at a nearby farm on Saturdays. At Drew-Freeman Middle School in Suitland, where there were 421 suspensions and expulsions in the 2010-2011 school year, suspended students participate in chess club meetings, and the school’s chess club placed fourth in a national competition in May in San Diego.

Lynch noted that these types of suspensions allow the students to continue in their classes while still being disciplined for their violations of the school system’s Student Code of Conduct.

“We try to keep students in school as much as possible,” she said. “We don’t want to disrupt learning.”

For both in- and out-of-school suspensions, teachers send in-class assignments and homework with students to complete while they’re out of class, Lynch said.

Group fights, assault, hazing, the possession or use of fireworks, theft worth $100 or more, threatening a school system employee, and vandalism causing between $100 to $500 in damages are among the offenses labeled “Level III” by the county school system and can result in one to five days of suspension, according to the student code of conduct. Repeated lower-level behavior, such as bullying, truancy, gambling, disrespect or forgery, can also lead to in- or out-of-school suspension.

As the county school system considers changes to the Student Code of Conduct, officials could recommend the school board vote to remove some of the non-violent, subjective violations — disrespect, insubordination, uniform noncompliance — from the list of offenses punishable by suspension or put a cap on the number of days a student could be suspended for these types of violations, Lynch said. Other disciplinary measures, such as having a parent shadow his or her child during the school day, could be taken to address these, she said.

However, Lynch said she would not recommend eliminating suspensions completely.

“There are some kids, you suspend them once, and their lives change forever,” she said.

County school board member Henry P. Armwood Jr. (Dist. 7) said he supports the general idea of Rosapepe’s bill — so long as resources are provided to establish these structured educational alternatives.

“Suspensions can no longer be the knee-jerk reaction, but there are some cases in which a child must be removed from a school,” Armwood said.