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Maryland schools still suspending youngest students, suspending Black students at higher rates

Maryland school systems are still suspending about 1,200 students in pre-kindergarten through second grade every year despite a 2017 law intended to virtually eliminate suspensions of the youngest students.

And Black students are suspended at a higher rate than all other races.

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The Maryland Department of Education staff presented a summary of the data at a State Board of Education meeting, but did not make the data available immediately.

The percent of students suspended in pre-kindergarten through second grade was cut in half, and is now .5% across the state. State officials said about three-quarters of the suspensions were for threats, attacks and fighting and a quarter were for disruption and disrespect. A tiny fraction were for weapons and arson.

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Black students are suspended at twice the statewide rate — or 1% of Black students in that age group — down from 2% several years ago, the data showed. Baltimore City had the lowest rates of suspensions of young children in the state. Baltimore County was below the state average. The state education department did not immediately respond to questions about the data.

Students with disabilities were also more likely to be disciplined with a suspension than other students. Baltimore City, Dorchester and Wicomico counties had the largest declines since 2017.

The change in the law in Maryland came at a time of growing concern about harsh, zero tolerance discipline policies that were pushing too many students out of school. The state school board changed policies about a five years ago to force school systems to address disproportionate suspensions of and special education students.

Despite those changes in the law and education policy, Black students are still being suspended at greater rates.

Black students in kindergarten through 12th grade are also being arrested more on school property or during school events than students of other races.

Maryland School Superintendent Karen Salmon called the disproportionality “horrendous.”

Some board members suggested they believe the numbers of suspensions may be higher — with students sent home without being formally suspended.

“The thing that troubles me is that none of this is new,” said Clarence Crawford, a school board member from Prince George’s County. “I find that completely unacceptable ... We have these reports come up year after year,” he said, adding that the predominant attitude is that they are children of color and “we expect them to get locked up. This cannot be the norm. This has to be addressed and stopped. It involves having some uncomfortable conversations about these issues.”

Crawford suggested the school board give school systems in Maryland incentives to drive down the numbers by offering them leniency in other areas until they correct the problem.

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