Friday, July 25, 2014

Maryland School Board Approves Discipline Guidelines

July 23, 2014

The Maryland state school board voted this week to distribute a set of discipline guidelines intended to be a model for school systems as they move away from zero tolerance policies of the past two decades.

The new detailed guidelines provide advice to school systems on how to handle disciplinary issues. They say, for instance, that no student should be suspended for disrespect. Instead, the guidelines suggest a student can be told to do community service, be removed temporarily from the classroom or be told to write a note of apology.

In many instances, the guidelines call for a more nuanced approach to discipline than has been used in some schools throughout the state. For instance, bringing a gun to school is cause for extended suspension and expulsion, but bringing a toy water gun would only be considered a minor infraction. Students who bring an implement to school that could potentially cause injury but is not intended to be used as a weapon would not be suspended from school either, although threatening another individual with the implement could result in an extended suspension.

A work group with members representing teachers, principals, administrators, school board members and other educators took part in a yearlong attempt to write the guidelines. In presenting the report to the school board Tuesday, Robert Murphy, a specialist for school completion and alternative programs at the state education department, and Katherine Rabb, from the Open Society Institute, both said the work group had been split on some of the guidelines.

The work group created a grid that delineates how far school leaders should go to discipline students in a variety of instances from failing to show up in a school uniform to carrying a weapon.

The guidelines are intended to supplement new regulations the state board put into effect earlier this year that require school systems across the state to reduce the number of suspensions. State school board leaders became interested in reducing suspensions after a series of high-profile cases indicated students were being punished too severely for some infractions. One high school student was expelled for a year from a school in Dorchester County after a fight and denied any access to an education during the year.

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