ANNAPOLIS — A Frederick County legislator is working to give local school officials freedom to disregard new state regulations governing student discipline.
Delegate Kathy Afzali argues that the standards handed down in January by the Maryland State Board of Education strip control from local educators in dealing with student behavior. She has authored two bills in the General Assembly to release schools from these requirements, with one proposal specific to Frederick County and the other covering the entire state.
“Nobody knows better than our local teachers and our principals and our superintendent and our school board,” said Afzali, R-District 4A. “So it’s important that they have the final say on the discipline.”
School officials should consider the state standards, but under Afzali’s bills, they could ultimately decide not to follow them, she said.
The new state regulations were developed to limit out-of-school suspensions, said Bill Reinhard, spokesman for the Maryland State Department of Education.
“The data on suspension is clear that if a kid is suspended or expelled, he or she is much less likely to graduate from high school, and the goal of education in Maryland is to prepare kids for college and career,” Reinhard said.
The state guidelines leave local schools room to adapt to individual cases and are not a one-size-fits-all mandate, he said. The new regulations developed from three years of study that included input from teachers, administrators and education organizations, according to Reinhard.
The state has always provided guidelines for school disciplinary practices, but the regulations adopted in January are highly specific, said Joy Schaefer, president of the Frederick County Board of Education.
For instance, one portion lays out guidelines for keeping suspended or expelled students on track with their coursework and requires schools to provide daily assignments from teachers and weekly check-ins from school staff. Another rule directs school systems to work on returning expelled students to their regular programs.
“When you get to that level of detail, you’ve taken the choice out of the hands of principals and that student’s teachers,” Schaefer said.
Often, in situations with a victim, it is disruptive to put an expelled student back into the same school, she said. Moving the student to an alternative program might work better in certain cases, and it’s important for local officials to have authority to make these case-by-case decisions, Schaefer added.
The Frederick County Board of Education has voiced support for Afzali’s statewide proposal. Members of the Frederick County legislative delegation have put their backing behind the local bill.
When local legislators discussed the proposal Friday, Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, said the county-specific proposal has little chance of success with state lawmakers. However, he said it “starts the conversation.”
Because Afzali submitted her proposals after the deadline for bill introductions, it must first clear the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. It would then go to the House Ways and Means Committee, where Afzali serves.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.