Maryland's school board will consider passing a regulation that would limit the time a school district can keep a student out of school waiting for a decision on the appeal of a suspension or expulsion.
After a Fairfax County, Va., student committed suicide following a long suspension from school, the Maryland board asked state administrators to survey school systems for their policies.
"It is clear what happened in Fairfax could happen in any district in Maryland," board member Kate Walsh said Tuesday after seeing the survey results.
While board members were careful to say they did not necessarily link the suicide with the suspension in Fairfax, they expressed concern that school systems have kept students out of school for weeks and months if the student appealed a suspension or expulsion.
"We don't want families to be prejudiced by the passage of time," said James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr., president of the board, suggesting that the staff draw up a proposed regulation that can be considered in April.
A regulation may well be opposed by local districts who have said they want discipline issues to be up to them and not the state.
Districts vary widely in how they approach discipline. For example, Calvert and Frederick counties do not have automatic expulsions for certain offenses, while some Eastern Shore counties will automatically consider expelling a student for a drug offense.
The metro counties have a more graded approach and often send students to an alternative school for a significant amount of time after an offense while smaller counties have fewer alternative programs and therefore more suspensions, said Chuck Buckler, director of student services and alternative programs for the state.
Buckler told the board that he receives numerous complaints from parents when their children are kept out of school.
Board members also said they want school systems to provide more detailed data on how long students are suspended so they can analyze what actions might be taken. Members said they are particularly concerned about the disproportionate number of suspensions and expulsions for African-American boys. Statistics show that they are disciplined more frequently and receive harsher punishment.