Md. To Reconsider Zero-Tolerance Policy Toward Conduct Violations In Schools

BALTIMORE (WJZ)– The state’s zero-tolerance policy at schools may be doing more harm than good. Now, some school leaders are calling for some sweeping changes.

As Gigi Barnett explains, there’s one city school that’s seen a drop in suspensions.

From the outside, it could be an English or history discussion at City Springs Elementary/Middle School in Southeast Baltimore.

But a closer look shows students are solving different kinds of problems.

It’s called a circle– a setting where students can openly discuss any behavior issue at school, like fighting or bullying. And the method could help school leaders statewide reduce the number of non-violent suspensions.

“Kids don’t want to fight with each other. They really don’t,” Rhonda Richetta, principal of City Springs, said.

Last year, school leaders statewide suspended a little more than 67,000 students. Half of them were for non-violent offenses and an overwhelming majority of those suspensions were handed out to special needs and minority students.

That’s causing the state to overhaul its code of conduct.

“Suspending a child and sending them home doesn’t resolve the problem,” Richetta said.

Richetta started circles at the school five years ago. In just one year, suspensions dropped from 86 to nine.

“There are people who think that students should be suspended for fighting,” she said. “I think that the issue that caused the fighting needs to be addressed.”

The state says doing away with its zero-tolerance policy will lead to higher attendance rates. Some parents agree.

“I’d rather have the children here in school because they’re not learning at home,” Sharone Henderson, a parent of a City Springs student, said. “They’re looking at the TV or playing a game.”

Each of the state’s 24 school districts has one year to create a plan to reduce the number of suspensions and the next three years to act on it.

In addition to dropping its high suspension rate, the state may also consider doing away with expulsions, except when a student brings a firearm to school.

More from Gigi Barnett
  • About Time

    I am really glad to see the school system look at smart alternatives to these common problems rather than throwing money at the school or punishments at these kids. Taking such a proactive approach…an approach that takes into consideration the other influences in the lives of these kids is one of the best things I’ve heard come out of public schools in AGES.

  • Working Poor

    The problem with mandatory suspensions/expulsions is most kids don’t want to be in school in the first place. They would rather be home doing their own thing, and if the parent’s arent at home to parent, then suspensions/expulsions are essentially rewarding these kids for bad behavior.

  • Sharon

    That is so true. They FINALLY have decided to resolve the issues and find out what is really the problem. There is always underlying reason why the kids are acting the way they do. Sending them home for a three (3) day vacation does not help solve the problem. Its like putting a bandaid on a gapping wound.

  • AD2536

    The REAL PROBLEM is the PARENTS! Education starts at home. You don’t need to waste time money and energy to figure that out! Also, maybe this works at an elementary or middle school level but try it at a city hight school. lol I want to see this at a city high school where student fight because they want to fight! They curse because they want to curse! They come to school with a nasty attitude every day. How do you fix that? How do you fix a 12 grade student who brings a knife to school and ready to use it? FIX the parents!

  • dave

    Wow I am glad they threw in the minority part. Could not let this go by without bringing a racial element into the mix.

  • wiseup

    hey-circles is just a new buzz word from the liberals….how about raising the standards in the city schools.. demand more from the students..real zero tolerence works….is 60% still passing in the city schools ?

  • trying to be positive

    @ Wiseup .. If you demand more from students, you have to demand more from teachers and they are trying to dress like the students and leave school when the bell rings.

  • Ad2536

    This zero tolerance policy does not even exist! What are they talking about? They are considering to go away from expulsions? Great! it will be a free for all now! With all do respect congratulations state officials for this brilliant idea! You must have lots of classroom experience! NOT!

  • A new kind of discipline for JCPS? | Education

    […] to a report featured earlier this year by the CBS affiliate in Baltimore, the school’s principal started the program at City Springs five years ago. In just one year, […]

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