New Bill Could Change Md. Schools' Discipline Policy

WASHINGTON — A bill to discourage schools from suspending and expelling Maryland’s youngest students — including preschool students as young as 4 years old — has passed in Annapolis, but has yet to be signed into law.

Democratic Sen. Will Smith of Montgomery County says his bill was inspired by education advocates who presented him with data on the rate of school suspensions and expulsions among elementary school-aged children.

“There were some real disparities revealed when you started thinking about who was being suspended,” Smith said.

According to the data supplied to lawmakers, there were more than 2,300 expulsions and suspensions statewide among students in the pre-K to second grade age group in the 2015-16 academic year.

Smith says African-American students accounted for 64 percent of all out-of-school suspensions and expulsions despite the fact that African-American students account for 34 percent of the school population. Special education students were also given suspension at higher rates than their peers.

Under the House version of the bill, the maximum length of a suspension would be nine days. Under the Senate version, the maximum time ordered out of school would be three days. The compromise put the total number of days that a child could be out of school at five days.

Smith says the infractions that landed elementary school students in trouble were behavioral: “Hitting, talking back, not paying attention,” all issues that Smith and the bill’s supporters contend can be dealt with in other ways.

Under the bill, as amended, “Schools will have to invoke and employ more restorative measures as opposed to simply saying that someone has to leave the classroom and be suspended out of school,” Smith said.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has 30 days to sign a bill into law, or he can opt to let the bill take effect without his signature.

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