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

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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.

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