On Tuesday, March 25th, the Massachusetts Board of Education will vote on new student discipline regulations (603 CMR 53.00). These regulations stem from the student discipline law passed by the Massachusetts state legislature An Act Relative to Student Access to Educational Services and Exclusion from School which will go into effect July 1, 2014. The purpose of the regulations, which would apply to all public elementary and secondary schools including charter schools, is to set forth:
"...the minimum procedural requirements applicable to the suspension of a student for a disciplinary offense other than: a) possession of a dangerous weapon; b) possession of a controlled substance; c) assault on a member of the school staff; and d) a felony charge or felony delinquency complaint or conviction, or adjudication or admission of guilt with respect to such felony, that is followed by a principal’s determination that the student’s continued presence in school would have a substantial detrimental effect on the general welfare of the school, as provided in G.L. c. 71, §§37H or 37H ½;
b) the minimum requirements and procedures necessary to ensure that all students who have been suspended or expelled, regardless of the type of offense, have an opportunity to make academic progress during their period of suspension"These regulations also state that a principal cannot impose suspension as a consequence without providing the parent written and oral notice; there also has to be an opportunity for a hearing on the issue to be held. In order to conduct a hearing without the parent present, the principal has to be able to document reasonable efforts were made to include the parent. Notifications regarding hearings have to be provided in the parents' native language if it is one other than English. It should be noted that according to the regulations: "The principal shall determine the extent of the rights to be afforded the student at a disciplinary hearing based on the anticipated consequences for the disciplinary offense."
In regard to the academic changes to the law around suspensions/expulsions:
"Any student who is serving an in-school suspension, short-term suspension, or long-term suspension shall have the opportunity to make up assignments, tests, papers, and other school work as needed to make academic progress during the period of his or her removal from the classroom or school. The principal shall inform the student and parent of this opportunity when the suspension is imposed.
(2) Any student who is expelled or suspended from school for more than ten (10) consecutive days, whether in school or out of school, shall have an opportunity to receive education services that will enable the student to make academic progress toward meeting state and local requirements, through the school-wide education service plan."
The proposed amendments to the regulations were developed in part due to the growing body of research suggesting the negative effects of harsh disciplinary practices. Specifically, it has been documented that discipline disparities for marginalized youth result in negative outcomes such as lower school commitment, lower academic engagement and higher dropout rates. Additionally, suspensions and expulsions have been linked to a higher rate of later criminal activity. Further, this paper notes that stringent discipline policies do not always make school safer; it states that "researchers have identified examples in which schools with similar student bodies that suspended and expelled students at higher rates did no better on key school performance measures than those schools that had fewer suspensions and expulsions." The new regulations offer alternatives to suspension which include detention, a loss of privileges, a student contract or probation.
Below is the suspension related data for the Lynn public school system.
Lynn's overall out-of-school suspension rate in 2012-13 was 12.7%, down from 17.4% the previous school year; the in-school suspension was down 0.7% from the previous year. Suspension rates at the individual school level varied with Fallon, Fecteau-Leary and Lynn English posting the highest out-of-school suspension rates. Lynn Classical, Lynn Tech and Pickering had the highest in-school suspension rates. Out-of school suspension rates ranged from 0% to 57.6% while in-school suspensions ranged from 0% to 24.5%.
Males in LPS posted both a higher in-school and out-of-school suspension rate than females and the district average.
This mirrored the state trends as 5.9% of male students in Massachusetts were suspended in 2012-13 compared to just 2.6% of female students.
African-American/Black students had the highest in-school and out-of-school suspension rates.
Finally, students with disabilities had a much higher out-of-school suspension rate than the district average (21.2% compared to 127%).
The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also reports student discipline by the type of offense. In 2012-13, 2,321 students were disciplined with most of the infractions (83.8%) falling into the 'non-drug, non-violent, or non-criminal-related offense' category.
All data taken from: www.doe.mass.edu