Dis­ci­pline change gains sup­port

Black cau­cus backs ban on sus­pend­ing, ex­pelling pre-K, other youngest stu­dents

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Michael Dresser mdresser@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/michaelt­dresser

“How can you sus­pend chil­dren in pre-K? If you can’t con­trol chil­dren in pre-K, there’s some­thing wrong with the whole ed­u­ca­tional setup.” Del. Ch­eryl D. Glenn, cau­cus chair

The Leg­isla­tive Black Cau­cus will get be­hind a push to curb school sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions of prekinder­garten and other young stu­dents.

Del. Ch­eryl D. Glenn, the Bal­ti­more Demo­crat who chairs the cau­cus, said Thurs­day the group will sup­port leg­is­la­tion planned by Del. Wil­liam C. Smith Jr. that would ban the prac­tice.

“How can you sus­pend chil­dren in pre-K?” Glenn said. “If you can’t con­trol chil­dren in pre-K, there’s some­thing wrong with the whole ed­u­ca­tional setup.”

Smith, a Mont­gomery County Demo­crat, told cau­cus mem­bers at an all-day hear­ing on a va­ri­ety of is­sues that he will in­tro­duce leg­is­la­tion in next year’s Gen­eral As­sem­bly ses­sion to ban sus­pend­ing stu­dents in pre-K up through the sec­ond grade.

He said re­search shows chil­dren that young do not un­der­stand the rea­sons they have been sus­pended and quickly fall be­hind when they are out of school.

Sus­pen­sions and ex­pul­sions of young chil­dren are a par­tic­u­lar con­cern for African-Amer­i­cans, Smith said. He said the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s Of­fice of Civil Rights has found that while black chil­dren make up 18 per­cent of the U.S. school pop­u­la­tion, they ac­count for 48 per­cent of sus­pen­sions.

Smith said the is­sue is es­pe­cially im­por­tant in Bal­ti­more. He pointed to sta­tis­tics show­ing the city had 33 pre-K sus­pen­sions in the 2012-2013 school year, while there was only one in Bal­ti­more County. Smith said that in some cases stu­dents were sus­pended for such things as mak­ing ges­tures mim­ick­ing the use of a gun.

Bal­ti­more re­ceives about $29 mil­lion a year from the state for its pre-K pro­gram, Smith said.

“When you’re mak­ing this in­vest­ment in pre-K and you sus­pend the stu­dents who most need ac­cess to this ed­u­ca­tion, you’re un­der­min­ing your in­vest­ment,” he said.

Smith added that sus­pen­sions at a young age can lead to stu­dents’ fail­ing aca­dem­i­cally, drop­ping out of school and be­ing in­car­cer­ated. He said schools need to find bet­ter ways of deal­ing with trou­bled chil­dren than send­ing them home.

The first-term del­e­gate said he is work­ing to build a coali­tion to sup­port the leg­is­la­tion and is meet­ing with groups in­clud­ing teach­ers’ unions and school boards.

Leg­isla­tive advocate Kim Humphrey, who rep­re­sented the Mary­land ACLU at the cau­cus hear­ing, said her group will be on board.

Humphrey said re­search has shown that black chil­dren re­ceive longer sus­pen­sions than white chil­dren for the same in­frac­tions, re­gard­less of the race of the ed­u­ca­tor mak­ing that de­ci­sion.

Smith’s pre­sen­ta­tion re­ceived a warm re­ac­tion from the cau­cus. Some mem­bers wanted to go even fur­ther. Del. Jill P. Carter, a Bal­ti­more Demo­crat, sug­gested a broader bill ad­dress­ing sus­pen­sions at all lev­els.

But Smith said that for strate­gic rea­sons, he’d pre­fer to bring in a mea­sure that’s nar­rowly tai­lored to the youngest chil­dren. He said the bill hasn’t been drafted but will be mod­eled on leg­is­la­tion be­ing con­sid­ered by the Council of the District of Columbia.

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