More students have been suspended in Baltimore City school system than the previous year. Disciplinary removals have increased by 25 percent, with nearly 8,500 students being suspended. Several years ago, school officials worked tirelessly to reform discipline policies to no avail. Sonja Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City schools, is currently investigating the underlying issues behind the increase.
Santelises, who took over for Gregory Thornton in July, said, “Baltimore was once a national front-runner in this area, so this is disconcerting, but it’s not immobilizing.” In the 2014-2015 school year, 6,760 students where suspended, this increased to 8,443 suspensions in the 2015-2016 term, the highest in the Baltimore region. Prince George’s County has the highest number of disciplinary suspensions in the state, which are up by 11 percent.
In 2014, the Obama administration cited legal authority under Titles IV and VI in providing detailed rules and guidelines on how school districts could administer discipline to minority students. The goal was to ensure these students weren’t punished through expulsion or suspension more than white students. The goal was to fight the “school-to-prison pipeline”, keeping students in school and out of the criminal justice system. At this time, many analysts began to voice their concerns about the new guidelines, saying that it may possibly backfire.
Education advocates are contemplating returning to the zero-tolerance disciplinary measures. Suspensions are in line with last year, which is very discerning to the district. In the past decade the Baltimore school system worked diligently to keep suspensions at a minimum. With a revised code of conduct in hand, educators and principals set out on a mission to maintain low suspension rates, by limiting minor offense suspensions. Teachers were given bonuses for their part in the process.
Former CEO Gregory Thornton removed school police officers in April 2015, after state legislation to allow officers to be armed failed. When the officers were removed, the full responsibility fell onto the principal, leaving them with no option, but to discipline problem students with suspension. Officers appear to play a major role in maintaining safety and keeping discipline numbers down in communities that continued to use them.
Most of the last year suspensions were linked to fights, threats, disruption and disrespect. President of the principals union, Jimmy Gittings, said, “The reason suspensions have gone up is because of the lack of school police and more violent students in the schools, principals and teachers are just sick of this.”
To curb suspensions, the district called for students to be sent home, without being officially suspended. This is an issue will also need to be addressed, because it a very common occurrence.