Carroll County Public Schools officials are concerned about the potential effects of new discipline regulations under consideration by the Maryland State Board of Education and they are asking staff members and the public to contact the state board with these concerns.
During the Oct. 9 Board of Education meeting, director of student services Dana Falls said the new regulations will philosophically change how students are disciplined in Carroll County.
"Our families need to look at this and recognize that this is detrimental to the learning environment in Carroll County Public Schools," he said.
The State Board of Education has been reviewing school discipline and the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions as a disciplinary practice for more than two years in an attempt to reduce the amount of time a student is out of school for disciplinary reasons.
In an interview Wednesday, assistant superintendent for administration Jon O'Neal reiterated that the school system agrees with the state board's ideals regarding discipline, but believes these regulations could create an unsafe environment for students.
"This doesn't mean that we think we are perfect and we can't improve, but we think it will actually have an impact on the quality of services and the type of student supports we already provide," O'Neal said.
Although school system officials agree with the goals of the state board, officials say the new regulations pit concerns over the rights of chronically disruptive or dangerous students versus the majority of students' rights to expect safe and orderly schools and classrooms.
School system officials believe the proposals remove the local board's decision-making and control of the learning environment and creates unclear and dangerous standards for student discipline and safe and orderly learning environments.
In a list of example disciplinary actions under the proposed regulations given to board members Oct. 9, a student who brought a switchblade knife to school and threatened two female students with it would be temporarily removed from class with a short-term suspension of one to three days, required to perform community service, and possibly given an in-school suspension.
Under current discipline regulations, the student would receive a 10-day suspension with an extended suspension recommended and a mandatory violence assessment. Students on suspension do have the opportunity to attend the school system's alternative school, the Gateway School in Westminster, so they are not out of school for an extended period of time.
Board member Jennifer Seidel said she was "appalled" by the weapons discipline proposed.
"As a parent, that terrifies me that my student, my student who is an innocent student, might be sitting in the middle of that," she said.
Seidel said some of the proposed punishments are "ridiculous" and that the school system needs to make the public aware of these proposals.
The proposed regulations are now open for a 30-day public comment period through the Maryland Board of Education. A public hearing will not be held, but the board is accepting written comments. The proposed regulations were published Oct. 4 in the Maryland Register with the state board of education expected to take action on the regulations Dec. 10.
If approved by the state board, the Carroll County Board of Education will have to make any necessary adjustments to local policies, regulations, or practices for the 2014-15 school year, according to O'Neal.
School board member Gary Bauer, who served on a committee that reviewed the proposed regulations, said he is upset at what they have turned into and said they "are too far to the extreme."
"We need to do something to stop this," he said.
A previous set of regulations was proposed by the state board and later withdrawn in January after concerns were raised.
Board member Jim Doolan said now the fight is to change the state board of education's mind regarding this proposal.
"If they've already put this out, somebody has said this is pretty good," he said. "They didn't put it out because they didn't think it was a good document."
Board of County Commissioners President Doug Howard, who serves as the commissioner liaison to the Board of Education, said he believes county commissioners would support the school board in opposing the new discipline regulations.
The Board voted unanimously Oct. 9 for the school system to submit written testimony opposing the regulations, to inform and encourage employees and school communities to contact that state board, to petition the General Assembly's Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review (AELR) Committee to review the proposal and consider suspending its adoption, and to seek a full legislative remedy in the 2014 General Assembly.