We actually did it. After the debates, public hearings and letter-writing campaigns, advocates for school disciplinary reform heard a decision from the Maryland State Board of Education that was three years in the making. The Board decided to eliminate zero tolerance policies and enact a common-sense approach to school discipline.
As we waited for the school disciplinary vote to come up, we hoped that there would be no last-minute developments that would stall the vote yet again. We were used to the unexpected.
A year ago, the vote was delayed due to a lot of misinformation. At that moment, we as school disciplinary reform advocates decided we needed to employ a new strategy. We realized if we didn’t explain what effective school discipline was and why it is so important for our kids, it would be defined by supporters of the status quo. For this reason, we set out to share resources and explain to school administrators, teachers, parents and the Board the benefits of building a positive school climate and disciplining students in an appropriate and fair manner.
We left no proverbial stone unturned and our work paid off.
With the adoption of these regulations, schools will adopt disciplinary policies that will directly address the suspensions of students of color and those with disabilities receiving out-of-school punishments in greater numbers than their peers. The passage of these regulations also disrupts the school-to-prison pipeline in which students who are repeatedly suspended are more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Schools will now have to evaluate who is being affected by their current discipline practices and determine what needs to be done to ensure that accountability is equitable and reasonable.
We know that the passage of these regulations is just the beginning. There is still work to do and everyone has a role to play to ensure that our children succeed. Teachers, school administrators, students and advocates must work together—there are no two sides of the fence.
Yes, it is true that Maryland has joined the ranks of other school jurisdictions around the nation who have opted for a better way to discipline children. However, the work now begins.