The following is a statement from the Maryland Coalition to Reform School Discipline. We identify school practices that lead to disproportionate rates of suspensions, expulsions and school-based arrests, and work with school systems to create fair, equitable and appropriate discipline policies and practices. The coalition includes Advocates for Children and Youth, ACLU of Maryland, Maryland Disability Law Center, and Office of the Public Defender:
"Baltimore City has had a difficult and unprecedented couple of weeks. We are all still grappling with the death of another young person of color at the hands of police, and the city has seen an outpouring of grief, anger, hope, and faith from its people. At this time, Baltimore City Public Schools is faced with the significant challenge of helping all children and adolescents process and recover from this trauma. It is our coalition's position that City Schools must respond appropriately and equitably to negative behavior in school, while seeking to build trust.
"In a statement released on Tuesday, April 28th, we learned of Baltimore City Public Schools' plan to engage students in activities around the city-wide reactions to Freddie Gray's death. We commend City Schools for incorporating counselors, social workers and psychologists into that effort. However, the April 28th statement also indicated the school system's intention to hold students alleged to have engaged in disruptive acts off school grounds to "consequences in full accordance with the law and City Schools' code of conduct." While consequences are important, we also applaud City Schools' April 30th statement, which put more emphasis on supporting students and helping them understand the effects of their actions.
"Educators in our city have a unique and important role to engage students in meaningful conversation and learning surrounding the recent events. Serious behaviors that fall within the scope of the Code of Conduct ("Code") should therefore be addressed according to the restorative justice principles contained in the Code. The Code, and recent regulations passed by the State Board of Education, are designed to keep students in school. Punitive school discipline responses to recent events would serve no benefit to students or school communities, and will only push more young people out of school. Appropriate and positive responses founded in restorative practices could include community service, writing or art projects about nonviolent social change, supervised community counseling sessions with police representatives, anger management counseling, and more.
"Unique circumstances existed last Monday and many questions remain unanswered about what contributed to the turmoil. There are accounts of transit systems outside Mondawmin being shut down making it difficult for students trying to get home, some police officers throwing bricks and other debris at students, and students who were observing but not participating in any inappropriate behavior being arrested. We have concerns about how all of these things may have impacted the dynamics between heavily militarized police and students.
"In addition, if students have been arrested due to their involvement, that alone cannot be a basis for school exclusion. While an arrest for certain offenses that occur in the community may be reported to the school system pursuant to COMAR 13A.08.01.17, notice of a reportable offense charge alone "may not be the basis for suspension or expulsion." The school system may only change the educational program of a student who is charged with a reportable offense if it is necessary "to maintain a safe and secure school environment." It is our hope that BCPS will comply with the reportable offense regulations and follow the MSDE Model Policy that recommends that school systems take a team approach when determining whether a student poses a threat to school safety.
"Finally, we emphasize the need for BCPS to use the Code to guide its discipline decisions. Currently, some low-level incidents taking place in Baltimore City schools are leading to school-based arrests. According to the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, Baltimore represents 90% of school-based arrests in Maryland, but only 10% of the student body. Overwhelmingly, these arrests and referrals are for incidents charged as low-level, misdemeanors; in past years, those types of behaviors were handled by school discipline, not the criminal justice system. Arresting students for behavior that should be handled by administrators in the school unnecessarily criminalizes Baltimore City's young people.
"As Baltimore City Public Schools reacts to those who are implicated in the events of April 27th, we would ask that the Code of Conduct be applied in the spirit with which it was developed - to create a strong learning environment and supportive school climate. We hope that this important moment in history will be used as a teachable one, and call on Dr. Thornton, and other administrators, to exercise the utmost care and consideration as they make any disciplinary decisions."