By JESSICA GROOVER
ANNAPOLIS (Dec. 18, 2008)—The number of students who have been suspended more than once in a school year is dropping slightly after a spike last year, according to data from school districts statewide.
Maryland public schools saw a 6 percent increase in the number of students who were suspended more than once during the 2006-2007 school year, compared to data from the previous year.
"When that data came out, it was the second highest we had seen on record," said Matthew Joseph, executive director for Advocates for Children and Youth, an independent organization.
The Maryland State Department of Education will release data from the 2007-2008 year in the next two months, and some of the schools with the largest increases are reporting that their numbers have dropped.
After years of Maryland suspension rates rising among public schools, administrators are optimistic that the numbers are going down, thanks to behavioral systems being implemented throughout the state.
Worcester County Public Schools saw the largest change last year, with a 68 percent increase in the number of students suspended multiple times. This year, the number has dropped by 7 percent, to 140 students.
April Adams, a parent of two children who attended Pocomoke Middle School in Worcester at the time, was shocked by last year's numbers.
"I think that's way too high," Adams said. "I haven't noticed anything personally. If it keeps those kids out of the classroom, I support in-school suspension because there's nothing worse than having a child disrupt a classroom."
Barbara Witherow, the coordinator of public relations and special programs for Worcester County Public Schools, said the reason for the drastic change was the unusually low number of students who were suspended more than once during the 2005-2006 school year.
"It is true that 2006 was a low year," Witherow said. "This year was not really high. It's in line with our average."
The average number of students who were suspended multiple times in Worcester County since the 2002-2003 school year is 151.
Allegany County Public Schools had a jump of 42 percent in the number of students who were suspended more than once during the 2006-2007 school year. During the past five years, the numbers did not change that much in any other year.
Jennifer Kauffman, the co-chair of the Superintendent's Parent Advisory Council for the county schools, guessed that the significant increase was due to the behavior matrix that the county has implemented the last two years, which standardized the penalties for suspension in all of the county's schools.
As a parent of two elementary school children, Kauffman has not noticed anything unusual that would account for the increase in students who were suspended more than once.
"I used to teach in Calvert County," Kauffman said. "Walking by the office, I don't think I'm seeing more students at the office than I did at Calvert County several years ago."
Part of the reason that some of the parents and administrators are noticing general dips in the number of students who have been suspended more than once is because of a newer management system called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This system, which has been implemented throughout many schools in the state since 1999, helps teachers use positive reinforcements and provides therapeutic solutions for students.
Joseph said that he noticed the numbers increasing in the past, but that Charles County Public Schools and Baltimore City Public Schools were reversing the trend because of their implementation of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports system.
"There's this tendency to think suspension is the solution, but it ends up in this spiral," Joseph said. "People are moving towards alternatives."
Charles County public schools had seen decreases in the number of students who were suspended more than one since the 2004-2005 school year.
The county reported that the number for the 2007-2008 school year went up by seven students, an increase of .56 percent, but Keith Grier, director of student services for the school system, said that he is not worried.
"I'm not overly upset by seven more students," Grier said. "I know I can correct the behavior once, and I know it doesn't always work the first time."
Grier cited a peak in enrollment as a possible cause for the numbers increasing slightly, but he said that the overall suspension rate has dropped, thanks to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports being implemented in most of the county's schools.
"I think PBIS has a great deal to do with it," Grier said. "Generally speaking, that has brought a positive [change] to the school. You don't cause problems if you're successful."
School suspension data can be found on the web site of the the Annie E. Casey Foundation, http://www.aecf.org/, in the "Kids Count" section.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.