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New policy aimed at lowering Md. student suspensions

Thursday - 7/26/2012, 6:00am  ET

Maryland education officials have approved changes to the state's discipline policy that are intended to reduce suspensions and expulsions.

The State Board of Education approved the new regulations Tuesday. The changes come amid a national debate about whether too many students are suspended or expelled for offenses that could be handled in other ways.

The Frederick County Public School system is keeping a close eye on the potential changes and the impact they will have on school policies, school system attorney Jamie Cannon wrote Wednesday in an email.

There could be significant changes to timelines imposed for investigating student misconduct and requiring school systems to offer services to students who are suspended from school, Cannon wrote.

Zero- tolerance discipline policies with automatic consequences will be banned under the new state regulations. Schools will now be required to adopt a rehabilitative approach to discipline, and suspensions and expulsions will be measures of last resort.

The state will also require school systems to track data to ensure that minority and special education students do not receive harsher punishments and to eliminate any such disparities.

A final vote on the policy is set for next month.

The State Board of Education has been reviewing school discipline and the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions as a disciplinary practice for the past two years.

The examination came after the release of a board opinion in an appeal involving the expulsion of a ninth-grade student for the majority of the school year, during which time the student received intermittent homework assignments but no follow-up, grading or other interaction with school personnel, according to a State Department of Education news release.

The state has established that for students to be ready for college and a career, they need to be in school, the release stated.

The state's school discipline philosophy focuses on keeping students in school.

If suspension or expulsion is necessary -- as a last resort -- the school must keep suspended or expelled students connected to the school by providing education services that will allow the student to return to school with a chance to become college- and career-ready, the release stated.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.