Juvenile Justice

Published — January 31, 2012 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Wildly different directions on when to eject kids from school

Introduction

A Michigan teenager is at home on suspension for hair that’s too long.

Meanwhile, the state of Maryland may actually restrict suspensions to offenses that are violent or truly harmful to others.

Two wildly different takes on when to remove a student from classrooms, a hot debate now among educators, parents and others concerned about kids’ welfare.

In Maryland this month, state education leaders are expected to deliberate new proposals that could dramatically scale back reasons for suspending and expelling students in that state.

If adopted by the Maryland Board of Education, the new rules would narrow the broad spectrum of offenses for which students can now be suspended, according to Washington Post coverage. James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr., president of the education board, said he’s concerned that half the at-home suspensions in the state are for nonviolent offenses, such as insubordination, failure to follow rules and cellphone infractions.

The Baltimore Sun also reports that the new rules would prohibit expelling students for most offenses except for firearms possession. That would contrast sharply with the scene in California, where the Center for Public Integrity reported that the Golden State’s Kern County goes far behind national and state averages for expelling students for defiance, disruption and obscenity.

The Sun quotes Maryland’s DeGraffenreidt explaining that additional proposals would require school districts to draw up plans to reduce nonviolent offenses in three years, and cut the rate of disproportionate suspensions of special education and minority students.

Dropout rates and low achievement are linked to students being out of classrooms, supporters of the possible changes in Maryland said. The Post and the Sun both note, however, that concern is developing among some educators and others about the sweeping nature of the proposals.

In Michigan, the case of a 17-year-old suspended because of a dispute over his hair shows how local institutions, if unchecked, can set their own course on discipline.

A charter school in a Flint, Mich., suburb is catching flak for suspending a leukemia survivor for growing his hair beyond a length the school allows.

J.T. Gaskins, 17, wants to grow his hair out so he can donate it to cancer patients. But his school says his locks were starting to droop over his collar, a violation of a code admitted students are asked to sign. An reader of the Detroit News account suggests the crackdown on J.T.’s hair sounds more like something out of 1962, not 2012.

School officials say they’d like the boy, who has been out of school for more than a week, to return, with hair restyled.

Read more in Education

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