All children in Maryland, well behaved or otherwise, are guaranteed the right to an education. Yet, schools across the state are pushing children out with high rates of suspensions, primarily for non-violent acts. Many are suspended without any educational services, so they’re out of school, some for more than 10 days, with little opportunity or support to stay on pace with their coursework. When excluded, these students fall behind, disengage from school, and are at increased of risk of repeating a grade, dropping out, and becoming involved in the juvenile justice system. What’s more, students of color and those with disabilities are disproportionately represented among those suspended and expelled. Without an education, these students don’t have the same opportunities for life success. And so, through the same education system ranked number one in the nation, we perpetuate a stratified Maryland.
But, the future looks bright. The Maryland School Board of Education recently published regulations designed to reduce these disparities, to make suspensions and expulsions a last resort, and to put in place positive, common sense discipline policies that focus on keeping children in school, rather than on pushing them out.
Since the beginning of the state-wide process to revise school discipline regulations, OSI-Baltimore’s Education and Youth Development staff has provided the Maryland State Board of Education with testimony and written comments, and has worked with groups of stakeholders to influence the board’s school discipline reforms. The new regulations reduce the lengths of both short and long-term suspensions, require schools to provide educational services during periods of suspensions and expulsions, mandate new data collection on school arrests and referrals to the juvenile justice system, and may require the development of local plans to eliminate disproportionate impact on students of color and those with disabilities.
Even with these positive developments, there is more work ahead. OSI-Baltimore will provide support over the coming years to the Maryland State Department of Education and to local jurisdictions as they re-write discipline codes and reform practices to comply with these new regulations. With an emphasis on keeping children in school, teaching them appropriate behaviors, and continuing to educate during exclusions, all of Maryland’s children can stay on pace with their classmates and on course to graduate.