What are our state and federal lawmakers doing to address school climate these days?
This month we would like to highlight state and federal policies that are trying to make great strides in school climate work. The PSC recognizes that our whole community must be involved in the teaching and caring for our children. As part of our communities, our policymakers can be a key player in moving the needle on this work.
State of Maryland
In the 2017 Maryland Legislative Session, House Bill 425 called for a banning of suspensions and expulsions for students in preK-2nd grade; with the exception of breaking federal law. It allows our youngest students a fair shot in receiving much needed support rather than giving punishment. Our young students can’t always cognitively understand why they are “misbehaving” or exhibiting disruptive behaviors. This bill can place restorative strategies at the forefront of school discipline, and help remove barriers, in-crease access, and promote success for our students. It also attempts to address the high rates of young students of color receiving punitive discipline measures. In Maryland, it is a fact that African American/Black students, especially boys, are expelled and suspended at an abnormally higher rate than their white counterparts. The 2016 breakdown of Maryland counties reveal that Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore are the worst offenders suspending and expelling African American/Black K-12 students at almost a 50% rate!
We have good news and bad news – Bad news first? As the bill went through committees, the bill reduced from a com-plete ban, to partial ban. Students from preK-2nd grade will have expulsions banned, but suspensions will have a 5-day cap. The good news (besides a complete ban on expulsions) is that the suspensions must have a school psychologist or other mental health professional evaluate threat of serious harm to students or staff. The 5-day or less suspension will only be given if there are no other interventions or supports left to help. The bill also specifies that support must be given to young students who are disruptive or commit an act that would be grounds for suspension. This bill took effect July 1st 2017. We are looking forward to see how positively this will affect our young students in Maryland. Our hope is to see that the 5-day suspension cap reduce, and eventually disappear one day. This is a great step in the right direction. Way to go Maryland!
In the same 2017 session, a bill forming the Commission on the School-To-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices was introduced. This bill comes to no surprise to the PSC. We know Baltimore school communities and supporters have been pushing MD legislation to take a look at the school-to-prison pipeline. It is exciting to see this group come to fruition and tackle the pipeline. The commission will provide recommendations to the state on how to address the disproportionali-ties of students of color ending up in the juvenile system, and how schools should address the complexities of poverty, oppression, trauma, and racism. We are happy to report that our Director of the PSC has a seat on this commission, and will be actively participating, informing, and developing recommendations as part of this state commission!
House Representative Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) introduced two bills in Spring 2017 that relate to school climate. Both bills have bipartisan co-sponsorship. They have not made much movement in the House yet, but we are keeping tabs!
HR 1864 – Chronic Absenteeism Reduction Act
Permits the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to allow educational agen-cies to use Federal funds for programs, interventions, and activities that address chronic absenteeism. This is a response to states focusing on this as an indicator for school improvement for ESSA.
HR 2544 – Teacher Health and Wellness Act
Requires the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to find out ways to reduce teacher stress, increase teacher retention, and overall well-being for our nation’s educators.
The PSC will continue to bring you updates on policies that affect school climate and discipline issues in our school communities. Have an idea or something you want to see on our website or newsletter? Email us at email@example.com