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Because of the efforts of Open Society Institute-Baltimore (OSI-Baltimore), Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) now has a new student code of conduct that focuses much more on prevention and intervention strategies than punitive measures. In Spring 2007, OSI-Baltimore began serving as co-chair of the BCPSS Discipline Policies Working Group.  This group included teachers, school administrators, leaders of community-based youth advocacy organizations, and parents. OSI-Baltimore requested the assistance of Advancement Project lawyers to serve as consultants to the working group based on the extensive work Advancement Project had done on school discipline in other cities.

Advancement Project conducted extensive research prior to any drafting in order to create a code that was responsive to the specific needs raised in Baltimore City. This research included:

  • Reviewing federal and state laws, regulations, and policies relating to school discipline so that the working group could understand what disciplinary actions were required by law;
  • Analyzing school discipline data so that there was a better understanding of how suspensions and expulsions were being used in the district; and
  • Researching discipline codes from other school districts within and outside of Maryland to identify promising policies and practices that it wanted to implement in its new code.

Baltimore Community School Connections, a local student support organization, also organized sessions to get input from a broad group of students, parents, and staff. 

Overall, the working group found that although most school staff had the option of taking a variety of disciplinary actions, by far the most common response was an out-of-school suspension.  In addition, the working group found there were about 15,000 suspensions vs. only 2,500 conferences with parents.  Meanwhile, over 60% of student suspensions were for “minor misconduct” – such as classroom disruption, disrespect, and lack of attendance – issues that could be better resolved in the classroom or school setting.  Based on this knowledge and the other data gathered, the working group decided that any revised code must emphasize the idea that out-of-school suspensions or expulsions must be used as a last resort, and that less severe disciplinary actions should be exhausted first.  The working group began drafting the actual Student Code of Conduct in late 2007.

In early summer 2008, once the Code was drafted by the working group, three sessions were organized in Baltimore City for the public to have an opportunity to provide comments on the Code. Shortly thereafter, a final Code of Conduct was accepted and adopted by BCPSS.  While the final code does not include all of the recommendations made by the working group, the revised Code still places added emphasis on the use of prevention and intervention strategies and discourages the use of out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, and arrests for most student misbehavior. Additionally, school administrators were required to attend formal trainings on the new Code to ensure they understood this new shift away from reactive punitive discipline and towards positive prevention and intervention strategies. Lastly, the community was given a space to voice its concerns and played a meaningful role in the process. 

The ability of BCPSS leadership and advocates to work collaboratively toward a common goal greatly assisted with the development of the Code.  In fact, the advocacy and public education around this model of less punitive discipline has already created a tangible effect, even before the Code’s completion. In 2007-2008, there were 2,000 fewer short-term suspensions than in the previous year. Furthermore, the CEO eliminated suspension as an option for attendance infractions and required school principals to receive approval from the BCPSS administration before suspending a student for more than five days, rather than the previous amount of 10 days. 

OSI-Baltimore will continue working with advocacy groups on-the-ground to spearhead the effort to monitor the code, review its implementation, and analyze its effects. 

BCPSS 2008-2009 Discipline Code

2006-2007 Data Charts:

Flyer: A New Way of Discipline in BCPSS

For more information, contact:
Alexi Nunn                                                
Staff Attorney                                             
Advancement Project                   
1220 L Street, N.W., Suite 850
Washington, DC 20005                                               
T: 202-728-9557                                        
[email protected]


Jane Sundius
Education and Youth Development Program
201 North Charles Street, Suite 1300 
Open Society Institute-Baltimore
Baltimore, Maryland 21201
201 North Charles Street, Suite 1300
T: 410-234-1091
[email protected]