New Year, New Code: Changes in Discipline Plan Discourage Suspension

In an effort to outline the county’s new disciplinary approach, Code of Conduct packets were distributed to all MCPS students at the start of the school year.

Although many students stuffed these packets into their backpacks without a second glance, the content is worth reading. The new MCPS Code of Conduct summarizes the consequences for various offenses.

Assistant principal Bradley Rohner read the packet and noted the county’s different approach from previous years. “We’re really looking at the student before we’re passing judgment on the consequences, and we’re giving more appropriate consequences,” Rohner said.

The county is now moving away from its long-accepted practice of issuing out-of-school suspensions. Years ago, there was a uniform disciplinary policy: students who commit X offense must receive X punishment, a punishment that was often suspension. Now, school officials are being encouraged to resolve conflicts in school using methods like counseling and assistance programs.

“Out-of-school suspension doesn’t always mean that the student’s going to learn, and it also pulls the kid out of the learning environment,” Rohner said.

Data issued by the county indicates that RHS suspended roughly 20 to 25 students each year between 2011 and 2013, with the rate steadily decreasing over time. In 2013, six African-American students and thirteen Hispanic students were suspended. There is no reported data for the suspension of white students.

Junior Hunter Kline was suspended for one day in 2013, making him one of only a few white students to receive the punishment.

“For me, it was only like a sick day, so I didn’t have that much to make up,” Kline said. “The work would start to pile up after being suspended for a long time though.”

The disproportionate rate of minority suspensions in MCPS was another factor behind the shift in the county’s thinking. While the numbers are dropping with new measures in place, 769 African-Americans and 611 Hispanics were suspended in MCPS last year.

The disparity is not as obvious at RHS, a school that has had a suspension rate of less than three percent from 2011 to 2013, in comparison with the state’s suspension rate of 5.1 percent.

“When something happens at school, it’s almost a team effort with parents and school officials to figure out the appropriate consequences,” Rohner said. “We at Rockville have been more proactive a�� in creating an alternative for suspensions.”

Spanish teacher Erin Whaley is in her first year teaching at the high school level. Although she has never been involved with a suspension personally, she has a discipline method.

“I try to contact home, follow up with the student outside of class one-on-one, talk to counselors a�� and if they’re posing a safety concern in the classroom, have security pull them out temporarily,” Whaley said.

Another alternative to out-of-school suspension is RHSa�� Saturday Work Alternative Program (SWAP), which allows students to come in to school on a Saturday and do community service.

“Who wants to come here on a Saturday morning? That’s your time,” Rohner said.

Through the implementation of the Code of Conduct, the county hopes to continue reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions and shrinking the racial divide. To Rohner, the new policies only reinforce what RHS has been doing for the past few years.