Bill to limit discipline for young Md. students passes Senate

WASHINGTON — Legislation that would limit how often young students in Maryland are suspended and expelled from school advanced through the state Senate Wednesday, and now it appears it will likely pass through the General Assembly.

The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 32 to 15 — a veto-proof majority.

It would effectively prohibit the practice of suspending or expelling public school students in pre-K through second grade, with a handful of exceptions.

The House of Delegates passed similar legislation by a veto-proof margin, and will likely reach a compromise with the Senate for final approval.

“Last year we had 2,363 suspensions from pre-K to second grade,” Democratic state Sen. Will Smith, the sponsor of the bill, told the Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee earlier this month.

“That was a 17 percent increase from the year before,” he said. “Those were some pretty significant numbers.”

Smith also said he was concerned that data showed African-American students and children with developmental disabilities were more likely to be suspended for perceived bad behavior.

“It is the intent of the General Assembly that school systems shall utilize restorative practices as an alternative to traditional school disciplinary practices to ensure that developmentally appropriate, age — appropriate, and proportional consequences are applied to a child’s misbehavior,” the Senate bill states.

Generally, Democrats are in favor of the legislation and Republicans are opposed.

Supporters of the legislation say children can learn more by staying in school and dealing with their problems rather than being sent home. Opponents suspensions have value because they force parents to meet directly with school administrators and discuss problems.

It is not clear whether Republican Governor Larry Hogan supports the measure.

“This is not an absolute prohibition,” Smith noted.

Under the Senate bill, students would still be expelled if it is required by federal law. A student could still be suspended if school administrators and mental health professionals determined that the student poses a threat of serious harm to other students or staff.

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