Planned changes to statewide student discipline policies have hit a glitch and are on hold because of concerns from a legislative committee.
The state education department has been planning changes aimed at keeping students in school more often through the use of in-school interventions in lieu of out-of-school suspensions, especially for certain “soft” or nonviolent offenses and doing away with “zero-tolerance” discipline policies.
Local school systems would be expected to adjust their policies accordingly.
The Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive & Legislative Review reviews state agency regulations, including those from the Maryland State Department of Education.
Ian Ullman, chief of staff for Sen. Paul G. Pinsky (D-Prince George’s), confirmed that the student disciplinary regulations were on hold due to a number of concerns.
Ullman said the process being on hold does not mean the committee is for or against the proposed regulations.
A Maryland State Department of Education spokesperson said the school board and state staff are revising the regulations and plan to resubmit them to the legislative review committee soon.
The spokesperson did not know what specific changes might be made to the proposal.
“We are really in a holding pattern ourselves, waiting to hear from MSDE,” Charles Ridgell, director of student services for St. Mary’s public schools, said.
He said he and other school administrators are waiting to see what the next step would be, but for now they will continue with a push to lower the number of out-of-school suspensions, as they have been for a number of years.
While the St. Mary’s school board was concerned about exactly what offenses would be considered violent or not, for the most part members were onboard with the proposed changes, and reviewed county school policies last November.
Other boards were not so warm to the changes, however.
In a letter to MSDE from the Charles County Board of Education dated Nov. 28, the school board wrote that undefined and ambiguous language in the proposed regulations could affect proper implementation.
“For example, parents of disciplined students would always be able to question whether a long-term suspension or expulsion was truly a ‘last resort option.’”
The board wrote that adding that “last resort option” is not defined in the regulation.
In order to keep students in school, the state board proposes a regulation that limits the number of long-term suspensions for nonviolent offenses.
A proposed regulation that said students suspended from school should be provided with “minimal educational services,” meaning students who are suspended or expelled from school and are not a part of an alternative education program are to receive daily assignments from each class, graded by teachers weekly.
The Charles board noted several concerns, including that the regulation was time consuming and would cut into time spent grading and planning other students’ work.
A state report published last summer focused on the need for several changes that should be addressed in local boards’ policies, including the disproportionate number of suspensions for black students and students that receive special education. “Closing that gap, by improving student learning and performance, needs to be our highest priority,” the report states.
Local school systems, including St. Mary’s, were to present a plan to reduce that gap in one year and eliminate it within three years. There were also to be new reporting guidelines for school districts to keep track of arrests made in schools.