School Discipline Changes Coming to Maryland

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By Ebony Harley
Community Engagement Manager
Advocates for Children and Youth

After the debates, public hearings and letter-writing campaigns, advocates for school disciplinary reform heard a decision from the Maryland State Board of Education (MSBE) that was three years in the making. The Board decided to eliminate zero tolerance policies and enact a common-sense approach to school discipline.

The MSBE vote was one for the better.  The school regulations do not give students free passes for bad behavior but rather ensure that discipline is equitable and fair. For instance, schools will now be held accountable for disproportionality and have to evaluate who is being affected by their current discipline practices.  In addition, suspensions of more than 10 days are only permitted in violent situations or for non-violent infractions if every other possible remedy has been tried.  Expulsions are only allowed for violent infractions.  Suspended and expelled students now have shorter due process timelines and improved minimal educational standards.

The vote by the state school board was long in coming. Votes were delayed, workgroups were created and input was received by thousands of Marylanders. Misinformation about effective discipline and the regulations were rampant.

School discipline reform advocates decided we needed to employ a new strategy. We realized if we didn’t explain what effective school discipline was and why it is so important for our kids, it would be defined by supporters of the status quo. For this reason, we set out to share resources and explain to school administrators, teachers, parents and the Maryland State Board of Education the benefits of building a positive school climate and disciplining students in an appropriate and fair manner.

We left no proverbial stone unturned and our work paid off.

This reform helps disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline that moves students from school straight into the juvenile justice system. The connection between repeated, harsh punishment for minor infractions and future involvement in the juvenile justice system is well documented. The last thing Maryland needs is more children ending up in the pipeline because of a hand gesture, a small schoolyard spat, a disrespectful comment, or some other minor infraction that could be handled more effectively in school.

We know that the passage of these regulations is just the beginning. There is still work to do and everyone has a role to play to ensure that our children succeed.  To navigate through this new disciplinary environment, there are resources, including a webtool to help build positive school climates and effective disciplinary practices and policies, available at

Teachers, school administrators, students and advocates must work together—there are no two sides of the fence.  We are all on the side of children.

Ebony Harley is the Community Engagement Manager at Advocates for Children and Youth (ACY) and acts as a liaison between ACY’s staff and the community on issues relating to education and juvenile justice. She works to mobilize grasstop and grassroots supporters to become involved in ACY’s efforts to build brighter futures for Maryland's children and youth. She has a BA in Economics from Davidson College.