New regulations for discipline codes were approved by the Maryland State Board of Education Jan. 28, requiring schools to revise their policies in a way that limits suspensions and discourages zero-tolerance rules.
The main goal for these new regulations is to keep students in school as much as possible by avoiding out-of-school suspensions except as a last resort. The Maryland Board released two reports on the suspension toll, showing that more than 42,000 students were suspended or expelled in the last school year.
Controversies surrounding the zero-tolerance policy and racially disproportionate suspension rates were some reasons the change was approved. The zero-tolerance policy, while it provides a strong stance against bullying, has also been criticized as too harsh on students accused of bringing weapons to school.
The Washington Post also recently reported that the suspension rate for African American students in Maryland is 8.7 percent and about three percent for white and Hispanic students. “Student equality is a necessity,” freshman Alia Ghanem said. “No matter who you are or what your background is, every student deserves rights and equality.”
In MCPS, several actions have been taken to limit and monitor suspensions. Data regarding the number and purpose of suspensions given by each principal is collected and reported monthly.
“There was some concern about who was getting suspended, why kids were getting suspended,” Principal Billie-Jean Bensen said. Bensen, like all other principals in the county, is being tracked by the county for suspensions and being compared to other administrators in other schools.
One common alternative to suspensions that RHS and other MCPS schools use is the Student Work Alternative Program (SWAP). Students in this program show up on Saturday mornings to help clean up the school building as an alternative to being taken out of school during instruction times.
“We want kids in school. For many kids, being out of school is not a good thing,” Bensen said.
Even though principals are the only ones in the school who give suspensions, Bensen meets with other administrators and counselors as a team to discuss each individual situation before making a final decision. The staff have received training on how to handle suspensions.
“We’ve already been moving in that direction [with discipline policies],” Bensen said.