The ACLU of Maryland applauds the Maryland State Board of Education's (MSBE) unanimous approval to publish for public comment new school discipline regulations ending zero tolerance policies. Take action to show your support!
Ending the use of suspensions for minor offenses that are nonviolent is a positive step to correcting the overuse of suspension that result in countless hours of lost instructional time throughout the state and is a major step in ending the school-to-prison pipeline in this state.
MSBE began examining statewide disciplinary policy in 2009 after the ACLU and other partners brought the incredibly long wait times for appeals and hearings, as well as the racial, ethnic, and gender disparities in suspension and expulsion rates, to the Board's attention. Since then, the ACLU has worked alongside partners to influence the development of positive changes to the discipline regulations to address these concerns.
Ending nonsensical zero tolerance discipline policies will allow principals and teachers to show appropriate discretion on a case-by-case basis to properly respond to student misbehavior. Last year, over 34,000 students in Maryland were suspended for minor misbehavior such as having their cell phones in school or failure to obey school rules - meaning students were sent home rather than given an opportunity to learn from their mistakes, correct the behavior, and not fall further behind academically. With the new regulations in place, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions will be reserved for instances where student and staff safety are the main concern, or for the truly chronically disruptive.
New regulations would also hold school systems accountable for the disparate use of out-of-school punishments for students of color and students with disabilities. Last year, black students and students with disabilities were twice as likely to receive a suspension as their white and non disabled peers. Under the new regulations, school systems will be required to report this data to the school board, examine their disparities, and implement changes to eliminate the disparities within three years. Requiring school districts to treat all students fairly -- even the ones in trouble -- is just common sense.
In addition to these important reforms to the use of suspensions and expulsions, the proposed changes also address many due process concerns for students and families who appeal disciplinary decisions. These changes include establishing a statewide timeline to eliminate the months-long wait times for hearings currently experienced in some jurisdictions.
The ACLU is encouraged by the Maryland State Board of Education's continued efforts to end zero tolerance discipline practices in the State of Maryland. Please let the State Board know you support these common sense changes to the state discipline code.