The Maryland State Board of Education has just released new guidelines that change regulations relating to suspensions and expulsions in Maryland schools. Their aim is to move to a more rehabilitative model of discipline. This move is not entirely shocking considering the national debate around this issue and the fact that an inordinate amount of minority and special education students are impacted by suspensions and expulsions.
Overall, I think this is a great idea and a necessary step if we are to close the achievement gap for all students. Too often, suspensions and expulsions are used as a “crutch” for schools, instead of investing the time and resources in more difficult students. Further, in my personal experience it was too easy to suspend kids from school, as there was little oversight or questioning of disciplining decisions, even as our suspensions ballooned. Many times, the kids being suspended were simply given a three day vacation from school for disrupting class or being difficult, with no follow up to address the situation or correct the action long term. Additionally, many kids were routinely suspended for the same misbehaviors (which were not a threat to school safety), indicating that the policy of suspending did not work.
There are necessary times to suspend or expel students, mainly when the general safety of the school or other students has been compromised. Outside of these parameters, suspending students is not the best strategy, especially in areas where students are already at least one grade level behind. I admit, it is easier to suspend students that are troublesome and distractions for the entire class, but other avenues need to be pursed in this case. Students should be in school as much as possible; we cannot afford to have students miss days simply for being disruptive or disrespectful.
Hopefully, these new guidelines will work, but I hope they are coupled with new support systems for schools and administrators. I know as a teacher I want to do everything in my power to keep kids in my classroom and on task, sometimes I just need help doing that. These guidelines could end up being a difficult mandate to follow if they are not also established with new resources to help schools, teachers, and administrators meet this goal.