Board adopts discipline policies

(Aug. 22, 2014) Following Maryland’s overhaul of its student discipline policies early this year, the Worcester County Board of Education adopted its updated discipline policy during its meeting Tuesday.

The aim of the state changes is to relax longstanding severe and zero-tolerance policies and help keep students in school.

“With the new policy changes and procedural changes will come new changes in our schools,” said Superintendent Dr. Jerry Wilson, adding they will be “small changes, minor changes” to existing procedures.

The new guidelines allow school administrators to consider each infraction separately rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach to student discipline, Wilson said. Many changes in the Worcester policy focus on rewording guidelines to allow more flexibility when discipline is needed.

“A lot of ‘shalls’ changed to ‘may,’” said Chief Operating Officer Louis Taylor, calling the updated policy a “more conservative approach” to student discipline.

He noted that, like the state policy, Worcester’s guidelines aim to decrease the unequal punishment of some student groups, namely boys, blacks and students in special education programs.

During the 2012-2013 school year, for example, half of the 230 students who received out-of-school suspensions or were expelled in Worcester County were black, although only 20 percent of the student body is black, according to a Maryland State Department of Education Report on school exclusions.

More than twice as many boys as girls received out-of-school suspensions or were expelled from county schools, the report showed.

“The goal is to keep kids in school as much as possible,” Board Member Douglas Dryden said.

Dr. Aaron Dale, director of Student Services, compared student discipline to other areas that present problems for pupils.

“If the student is struggling in math and reading, we would provide addition support in math and reading,” Dale said. Similarly, if a student is struggling with a specific behavioral problem, the school will provide extra guidance in that area, he said.

Worcester County ranked relatively low among schools in terms of assigning out-of-school punishments in the State Department of Education Report, with 3.7 percent of the county’s students receiving them in the 2012-2013 year.

Still, the new guidelines should help keep even more students in the classroom.

“We’re going to have to do a lot more reporting to the state now about discipline results. We’re going to be held a lot more accountable for our discipline,” Taylor said.

The revised policy replaces the policy the board approved in May 2014, which was still under review by Board Attorney Jim Almand. Almand has reviewed the most recent version the board passed Tuesday.

Read Worcester County Public School’s updated student discipline policy at http://bit.ly/XB2zMu.

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