Amid the current frenzy of ramped up testing of students and value-added evaluation of teachers and principals, there was a glimmer of more enlightened thinking in Maryland. The Maryland Board of Education approved new regulations on Tuesday intended to cut back on suspensions and expulsions in schools. Zero tolerance policies will be banned and schools will be required to adopt a rehabilitative approach to discipline. Schools will be expected to provide educational services to students who may need to be removed from regular classrooms for some period of time. Suspension and expulsions will become a last resort instead of routine for minor infractions and schools will be asked to track discipline rates for minority and special education students and eliminate disparities.
This policy has the potential to create a common sense approach to maintaining safety in schools while also meeting the educational needs of our most challenging students. It will place additional burdens on principals and support services within school systems but the mission of public schools is to educate all children, not just those who conform readily to our expectations. This is socially just work that all school leaders should be undertaking. Unless educators take a tempered and educative approach to discipline, suspensions and expulsions become part of the pipeline to prison for many students. We can do better and Maryland is setting a good example.