A Prince George’s County teacher thought a ninth-grade student’s tone was disrespectful when asking questions about a form he had to sign. That student was suspended for five days for disrespect.
Such zero-tolerance scenarios are what school districts across Maryland are hoping to minimize by updating their disciplinary policies, ultimately reducing the number of out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. The Maryland State Board of Education is also in the process of changing statewide policies.
The updates come at a time when school disciplinary practices are facing more scrutiny -- the Justice Department filed a lawsuit in October alleging the city of Meridian, Miss., among other entities, violated students’ rights by creating a “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“We’re seeing across the country an increase in more serious consequences for students for what was considered to be traditional disciplinary matters,” said Judith Browne Dianis, who has done work with the school-to-prison pipeline since 1999 through the Advancement Project, a civil rights organization.
In some cases, punishment goes beyond just suspension and expulsion to become a criminal act. Dianis said there has been an increase in referring students to law enforcement for in-school incidents, which means students face consequences as severe as incarceration.
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