Local public school teachers have concerns about new regulations covering student discipline. On Tuesday, the Maryland State Board of Education approved new rules to encourage school districts to reduce the number of long-term suspensions and expulsions, and to use these methods only if the student presents an imminent threat to other students and staff.
"I don't think there's a lot of faith among teachers about the regulations that come out of MSDE-- the Maryland State Department of Education--really providing help for them doing their jobs," says Gary Brennan, the President of the Frederick County Teachers Association. "And these are just going to be more guidelines and rules that's going to make it harder for teachers dealing with discipline problems."
MSDE says the regulations also seek to eliminate the disproportionate impact of school discipline on students of color and students with disabilities. Many experts say the racial disparities stand out in Maryland. The state's suspension rate for African-American students is 8.7%; for white and Hispanic students, it 3%, according to the Center Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.
"For those that support the regs, we agree with their concerns. If there are inequities in whose being suspended, that isn't right. If certain kids are being suspended over other kids, we agree that's wrong. But again, one size fits all state regulations aren't going to fix the problem," says Brennan.
He also says there's a cost to many of these changes, especially if schools are to provide additional services to students who are under suspension. "As you know, our school system, we have maintenance of effort that really doesn't leave much in our budget to make those kind of changes," he says.
The new regulations, according to MSDE, require a speedy process for appeal of suspensions by students and their parents. They would allow the local boards of education to hear and decide on discipline appeals. There will also be an opportunity to extend the time period for complex cases.
The state board is telling local boards of education they must revise their discipline policies to reflect the new regulations, and these new policies must be in place by the start of the 2014-2015 academic year. "The school systems must figure out what they require, what do they mean, and how we're going to pay for them," Brennan says.