After strong objections surfaced from educators around the state, the Maryland State Board of Education delayed Tuesday any action on proposals to ensure that students who are suspended are dealt with fairly and quickly.

Board members seemed unlikely to be swayed by opposition, but they asked state Education Department staff to gather more information from those who object to their proposals.

The proposal would require a superintendent to decide within 10 days whether a student would be placed on long-term suspension or expelled. If the student receives a long-term suspension, parents have the right to appeal. Some students are being held out of school during the appeal process.

The board proposes that students must be able to return to school on the first day after they have served their suspension, even if the parents file an appeal.

The state board has been considering changes to the disciplinary codes because of cases in the past year in which students seemed to have been punished harshly for minor infractions or had no access to schooling while under long-term suspension.

But the superintendents' association, the state teachers union and the association representing the 24 school boards in Maryland expressed opposition to tightening the guidelines on how quickly suspensions are dealt with. High school principals, the Maryland public defender's office, the American Civil Liberties Union and others supported the proposals.

Some who oppose the state board's proposals say there were few cases in which students were treated unfairly and prevented from returning to school during an appeal and that the guidelines being proposed would burden local school systems.

James H. DeGraffenreidt, the state school board president, was unconvinced. "What got us into this discussion was a fundamental sense of due process and fairness," he said. "Even if what they say is true, it is, for the family involved in this procedural morass, a big deal."

In America, he said, there is a belief that one should not serve a penalty before a guilty verdict has been rendered. "Why should students be different?" he asked.

Board member Donna Hill Staton said that those opposed seemed more concerned about the inconvenience to local school system staff than about the individual student.

The board decided to delay publication of a proposed change in the state regulation and said it wanted to bring in those opposed to have a larger discussion about the issues.

The state board voted to go ahead with a series of small changes to how data on suspensions is gathered from local school districts and to change the definition of an expulsion, which usually means that students are sent to another school after a long-term suspension.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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