SILVER SPRING, MD (WUSA9) – A new law in Maryland will take aim at restricting a growing number of kids, the youngest students of all, from getting kicked out of school.
The law applies to second grade kids and younger.
In 2016-2016, 2,363 primary aged kids were suspended or expelled from school, a 17 percent increase from the year before.
It’s a statistic that disturbs educational advocates, says Senator Will Smith, one of the bill’s sponsors.
“When you drill down on the numbers you find that children of color, specifically African Americans and children with disabilities were disproportionately suspended, so it has a real disparate impact on more vulnerable communities” Said Smith.
The rates for suspensions and expulsions vary widely depending on the district. Prince George’s County had among the highest rates.
Zafar Shah’s son, Zakir, had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder in Kindergarten and first grade. He was suspended formally three times.
But Shah says he was informally sent home, too many times to count.
“I think for him it must have felt that these people who were like his family didn’t want him any more,” he said.
Shah said his son was sent home so often, the school never completed an obligatory assessment of his son’s behavior.
An attorney, Shah said was expected to pick up his son at a moment’s notice, forcing him to bring his son into the office with him, once calling as he was about to appear in court.
“I said, ‘well what if I don’t come,’ because I really couldn’t. And I was told, at that point that if I didn’t send a friend or come, that they could call the police to get my son out of the building.”
Shah says he’s not optimistic the bill will be effective.
One exception to law allows a school psychologist to deem a student a threat to staff and students. In Zakir’s case, he was often classed such a threat.
Shah said he’s personally offended by the notion there are bad kids.
“I’ve been there with my son, and I’ve seen that he’s not a bad person. He’s a good kid going through a bad time. There’s no excuse for treating him like his baddest moment, or his worst moment defines him,” said Shah.
This is the second time the state has tried to pass a law like this. Last time, it failed because it included kids in all grades.
As for those older students, the state has just commissioned a study looking at alternative forms of discipline.