By Christelle-grace Lowe, CFCC Student Fellow (2016-2017)
As law students, we often are reminded of how challenging and extensive a process it can be for a bill to become law. For this very reason, I was excited to be “offered a seat on the train” for revolutionary law-making in Maryland. This semester, I had the privilege of helping to support the passage of House Bill 425 – Public Schools – Suspensions and Expulsions. HB 425 was first introduced before the House Ways and Means Committee and sought to ban suspensions and expulsions in public schools for students in pre-kindergarten through second grade. The bill was also cross-filed in the Senate as Senate Bill 651.
HB 425 initially did not read as a bill banning suspensions, but more like a bill that enumerated grounds for suspending children in pre-kindergarten through second grade. While working with the bill’s sponsor to draft more precise language, the Coalition to Reform School Discipline asked the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts (CFCC) to research whether the Gun Free Schools Act applied to public pre-kindergarten programs. I was assigned to research this question in collaboration with my supervisor and the coalition, including reviewing the definitions of “school,” “public pre-kindergarten,” and “elementary education.”
When HB 425 went before the House Ways and Means Committee, various amendments were proposed. Ultimately, HB 425 passed both the House Ways and Means Committee and the House of Delegates, with an amendment that allowed for suspensions of no more than nine days if “the school administration, in consultation with a school psychologist or other mental health professional, determines that there is an imminent threat of serious harm to other students or staff that cannot be eliminated through interventions or supports.” HB 425 then went to the Senate for a vote.
At the same time, SB 651 was heard before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. Similar to HB 425, SB 651 passed both the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee and the full Senate, with an amendment similar to the House’s amendment, but allowing for suspensions of not more than five days. SB 651 has gone to the House for a vote. We are waiting to see which version ultimately passes – HB425, which allows for suspensions of up to nine days, or SB 651, which allows for suspensions of up to five days.
While this bill is not on the Governor’s desk yet, it has been an incredible pleasure to participate in and witness the development of legislation that would improve our educational system. By severely limiting the ability to remove young students from the classroom, we can help stop the school-to-prison pipeline and hope for better days ahead.