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State Board of Education adopts new student discipline regulations

The Maryland State Board of Education adopted new regulations guiding student discipline on Tuesday, which local school officials had feared could take away local control of discipline of students.

The regulations, which have been in development for four years, are designed to keep students in school and maintain progress toward graduation, while strengthening school safety, according to a Maryland State Department of Education news release.

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The regulations require local school systems to adopt policies that reduce long-term out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, and use such actions only when a student poses an imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff, or when a student is engaged in chronic or extreme disruptive behavior.

Local boards of education will be required to update their student discipline polices based on the new regulations by the beginning of the 2014-15 school year.

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Steve Guthrie, superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools, said he is not advising the Carroll County Board of Education change the local student disciplinary regulations as a result of the state regulations and is treating the regulations as guidelines.

The regulations seek to expedite the student discipline appeal process by allowing local boards of education to hear and decide school discipline appeals with an opportunity to extend that time period in complex cases, according to the release.

The regulations also seek to eliminate the disproportionate impact of school discipline on students of color and students with disabilities. MSDE will develop a method to analyze local school discipline data to measure the disproportionate impact on minority and special education students.

The vote represents the culmination of more than four years of study by State Board members, a process that has included collaboration with educators, local board members and other stakeholders. Proposed regulations were put out for public comment in October, then revised and put out again in mid-December for another 30-day comment period before they were adopted Tuesday.

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State board members have been concerned by the number and length of student suspensions, the impact that loss of class time has on academic success and the achievement gap and the effect that suspensions have on certain student subgroups, according to the release.

In October, the Carroll County Board of Education expressed concern that the Maryland State Board of Education's proposed school discipline guidelines and regulations would take away local control of discipline and have negative educational impacts for students.

The board asked that residents send in feedback to the state Board of Education.

Carroll school officials said in October that the adoption of the regulations would philosophically change how students are disciplined in Carroll County and affect alternative educational placements, such as the Gateway School.

Guthrie said while the regulations are general and can fit in the county's current guidelines, there may be an issue if a Code of Conduct or something similar is adopted.

"That's where the prescriptive disciplinary issues are," he said.

Dana Falls, director of student services, said suspension is used by local school officials as an intervention to help change student behavior so they can be successful, but limiting extended suspensions to a certain number of days could change that. Students can be placed on extended suspension for the remainder of a semester or school year so they're not disadvantaged academically, Falls said.

"It will make it more difficult for us to really use the suspension as an intervention for the student without disadvantaging them at an academic standpoint," he said.

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