After years of declines, school suspensions increased 25 percent during the 2015-16 school year, the Sun reported this weekend.
Karen Webber, director of OSI-Baltimore’s Education and Youth Development program is quoted throughout the piece, talking about OSI’s role in reducing suspensions over the last 12 years and expressing her concerns about a backslide.
“We had lots of tools,” she said, referring to the days when Webber oversaw school safety under Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Andres Alonso. When Gregory Thornton took over as CEO, she told the Sun, such efforts “didn’t get the priority they required.”
OSI began a campaign focused on reducing suspensions in 2004, when the rate was 26,000. The district experienced steady declines in suspensions thanks in part to the multi-year school discipline campaign led by OSI that resulted in the passage of progressive state and local school discipline policies. Five years later, in 2009, under the guidance of Alonso, who overhauled discipline protocols, that number had been reduced by half. Alonso left the position in 2013.
Webber spent more than a decade in Baltimore City schools, first as a teacher and principal, then directing the Office of Student Support and Safety for the district, before joining OSI.
Current school CEO Sonja Santelises said the increase in suspension is “disconcerting” especially since “Baltimore was once a national front-runner in this area,” but also maintained it was “not immobilizing.”
The Sun, in a staff editorial posted on Monday, called the increase in suspensions “disturbing” and said Santelises “needs to put discipline reform at the top of her agenda.”
OSI-Baltimore currently supports several programs dedicated to reforming strictly punitive, zero tolerance practices in the Baltimore City School System, including the Holistic Life Foundation which runs the Holistic Me Afterschool Program, and the Center for Positive School Climate and Supportive Discipline at the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Social Work.