The Baltimore County school board on Tuesday night voted down a new discipline policy that would have attempted to reduce the number of suspensions.

The new policy, first discussed by the board in February, was designed to encourage staff and teachers to intervene with students before they are suspended and would give principals more flexibility in how they deal with bad behavior.

Baltimore County has one of the highest suspension rates in the state with about one in 10 students sent home for bad behavior each year.  A disproportionate number of African American and special education students are also suspended.  The vote was five for and seven opposed. The members opposing the new policy were:  Michael Collins, Michael Bowler, Rodger Janssen, Logan McNaney, Ramona Johnson, Cornelia Bright Gordon, and George Moniodis.

"We need further dialogue," said Moniodis, adding that he believes there were concerns raised by the board that were never addressed by the staff when it was revised.

But Board chair Lawrence Schmidt said there were philosophical concerns that the strict discipline approach that has been used in the  county for many years have kept schools safe, and that members weren't willing to leave that policy yet. "Conceptually, there is a concern that the policy that is in effect today has been effective in maintaining the orderliness" of the schools, he said.

But Schmidt said it is likely that the policy will come back in a different form later. "The board has to get more comfortable with the philosophical approach," he said. There was little discussion before the vote. In their presentation before the board in February, school system staff said they believed that suspensions have been overused as a consequence for every bad behavior. They have wanted principals to be more strategic about trying to change a students poor behavior rather than sending them home, particularly for a non-violent offense.

 The new policy would have brought the discipline into line with a plan by the state school board, which is expected to be introduced soon.

Two of the board members, didn't express concerns about the change in philosophy, but wanted a more liberal policy for cell phone use. Johnson and McNaney, the student member, voted against the proposal because cells phones would have to be put away by students unless they were being used for specific educational purposes.

McNnaney told the board that cell phones are now widely used by students as part of the learning process and shouldn't be so restricted.