By Christelle-grace Lowe, CFCC Student Fellow (2016-2017)
Education is a necessity that allows a person to develop her personality and identity, as well as her physical and intellectual capabilities. Education allows the transmission of principles common to new generations and the preservation and perpetuation of a society’s values. Overall, the contribution of education to an individual’s personal development is undisputed. For these core reasons, all individuals should be guaranteed a fair opportunity to receive an adequate education.
While an ordered environment is crucial to effective education, it is no longer a secret that our education system has failed to maintain a positive learning environment by imposing strict and punitive discipline techniques. Recently, schools across the country have begun exploring alternative disciplinary methods. In the CFCC Student Fellows Program II, I have researched and charted out promising practices nationwide that are being used in place of suspensions and expulsions in schools. An analysis of changes introduced in various states suggests there is growing concern about striking a balance between school discipline and access to education. The effectiveness of suspensions and expulsions as disciplinary methods has been called into question because, while school discipline could be compared to a balancing act, it is mostly about “convincing students who are behaving badly to correct their behavior while also standing ready to banish anyone who interferes with the learning of others. Getting discipline right is an integral characteristic of a good school. Getting it wrong can be a disaster.”
Maryland has joined many other states, cities, and districts to reform its disciplinary practices, in an effort to keep children in school. To this end, Delegates A. Washington, Angel, D. Barnes, Haynes, Lierman, Pena–Melnyk, Sydnor, Tarlau, Walker, and M. Washington introduced House Bill 1287, “Commission on the School-to-Prison Pipeline and Restorative Practices,” during the 2017 legislative session. House Bill 1287 creates a commission that will study the school-to-prison pipeline, examine national best practices for training teachers and principals on restorative practices, and recommend whether to redesign school discipline policy to make it consistent with restorative justice practices and to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline in Maryland.
As a CFCC Student Fellow, I studied the impact of harsh and comprehensive school disciplinary practices on families’ lives. I spent the fall 2016 semester researching innovative restorative and alternative disciplinary practices in schools. Considering the knowledge of the subject that I now have, I was asked to submit written testimony to both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in support of HB 1287. I took the opportunity to express my support for the creation of a commission to examine how to make disciplinary practices more effective, which could contribute to a better relationship between students and educators, thereby increasing the opportunity for students to stay in school and receive their education.
After the House and Senate Committees passed HB 1287, the Maryland House of Delegates and the Senate voted to adopt it. It is now an Enrolled Bill. I am excited and hopeful that with the passage of HB 1287, we may one day have a school environment where conflicts are addressed based on values underlying restorative practices, such as cooperation, mutual understanding, trust, and respect. In an effort to combat the school-to-prison pipeline, this approach will enable students to talk through their experiences in a safe place, without the fear of school suspension or expulsion.