House Republicans Aim to Address School Accountability, Discipline

House Republicans introduced a number of bills poised to address disciplinary and accountability issues in Maryland public schools.

Between funding implementation for the recommended Kirwan education reforms and school facilities construction legislation, education is at the forefront of the 2020 legislative session. 

House Republican lawmakers gathered Thursday morning to express their concerns about problems they say their constituents are seeing in the immediate, like teacher protections and classroom management.

“Kirwan looks to the future and this impact that will have in classrooms years away,” said House Minority Whip Kathy Szeliga (R-Harford & Baltimore County). “But we’re not hearing about things that are going on today, and ways that we can address teachers and students and classrooms and parents today.”

“There are critical issues facing our students that Kirwan just doesn’t address,” Szeliga added.

Republicans unveiled a package of education reform bills poised to address issues that they say are overlooked by Democrats, two of which have already dropped. They include:

Good Teacher Protection Act 2020: This bill would give teachers and school administrators civil protections for intervening in student fights or other disputes if it’s determined that they were acting in good faith. A hearing for this legislation will be held in the House Judiciary Committee later this month.

Right to Teach Act 2020: This bill would permit teachers to dismiss habitually disruptive students from their classrooms and divert them to alternative, in-school programs until the teacher gives consent for them to return. The bill, which Szeliga said is based on Texas’ Safe Schools Act, is set to have a bill hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee in early March.

Three others are yet to be introduced:

Right to Learn Act 2020: This bill would give parents the discretion to remove their kids from schools that have consecutively received one-star ratings from the State Department of Education. They would instead be able to place their student at another, higher-ranking institution in the district or apply to receive a Right to Learn Scholarship for private education funded in part by their jurisdiction’s board of education.

Accountability in Education Act 2020: This legislation, if enacted, would broaden the scope of investigatory actions that may be taken by the state’s inspector general, and would create a tip hotline for parents, students and teachers who feel that inadequate action has been executed to address disciplinary problems.

Predator-Free Schools Act 2020: As Maryland law currently stands, students who are listed on the sex offender registry are allowed to attend traditional public high schools with written consent from the administration. This bill would disallow that practice completely, requiring school systems to devise alternate education plans for student sex offenders.

Maryland mother and school safety advocate Nicole Landers backs the Republican legislation. 

Landers said that she pulled both of her children out of the Baltimore County Public Schools because they were severely bullied by other students whom the faculty refused to remove from their classrooms.

She brought and displayed notes written by her children: One, a hand-scrawled plea of desperation reading “Kille me” that was penned by her 9-year-old son after being the target of “unrelenting” bullying; the other, testimony written by her daughter detailing her experience with sexual assault at the hands of another student when she was in the fifth grade. 

“She was asked to sit in math class and English, science, with the student,” said Landers.

“She lost an entire year of her learning.”

Landers’ daughter presented the testimony to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in an attempt to repeal a 2014 guidance package aimed at decreasing instances of school suspensions and expulsions. They won the repeal. 

Landers said that teachers’ inability to sufficiently discipline students has not only decreased classroom safety but has also contributed to insufficient learning outcomes, citing the Maryland Department of Education’s Public Schools Report Card’s assessment of fourth-grade reading levels, which she called “appalling.” 

According to the report card, about 40% of Maryland fourth-graders attending public school are reading at an age-appropriate level.

“Not one of us in this room right now could sit and do our work on a daily basis … with a peer who sexually assaulted us,” Landers said. “It is unfair to not arm teachers with the tools they need to separate these students, provide them support and open up the opportunity for other students in the classroom to learn.”

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.