WASHINGTON – Maryland schools reported 1,739 suspensions for students who brought weapons to Maryland schools in the 1999-2000 school year and 636 subsequent expulsions, according to a new report by the state Department of Education.
But the number of both weapons expulsions and suspensions were down 11 percent from a year earlier, said the report, when there were about 1,955 suspensions weapons and 717 expulsions.
The 22-page report, released Wednesday, also showed that weapons violations were the most likely to lead to an expulsion, of the 34 possible suspension categories in the schools.
Despite the decrease, a state education official was reluctant to declare victory in the battle against school violence.
“These numbers are not necessarily showing that a victory has been won. It (weapons violations) will always be an ongoing concern,” said Neil Greenberger, the schools spokesman.
“We are very cautious of stats, but anytime the trend seems to be going in a favorable direction, we’d like to declare that programs are working,” he said. “The numbers have declined because we’re making a stronger effort.”
Despite the decline in reported weapons violations, the report showed that the number of suspensions for student attacks on teachers rose 2.3 percent from 1998-99 to 1999-2000. There were 2,144 suspensions for attacks on teachers last year and 432 expulsions.
“It’s discouraging to see this 2.3 percent increase,” said Aaron Merki, 17, the student member of the Maryland Board of Education.
Merki noted that the state is “undergoing major educational reforms” that could increase tension between teachers and students.
“We’re raising the level of education standards,” Merki said. “While these are positive pressures, they might be enough to raise the tension level in the classroom between students and teachers.”
Overall, the number of suspensions for all infractions rose slightly last year, while the number of expulsions dropped sharply, according to the report.
Suspensions rose from 110,422 to 113,377, an increase of 2.7 percent. The percentage of students who were suspended at some time during the school year also inched up slightly, from 7.8 percent in 1998-99 to 7.9 percent in 1999- 2000.
Expulsions, meanwhile, fell 22 percent overall, from 3,576 to 2,789. Only four of the 34 categories of school infractions recorded increases during the period: insubordination, sexual activity, verbal or physical threat against a student and unauthorized sale or distribution.
“Overall we think the public school system is safe,” said Debra Williams- Garner, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Teacher’s Association. “But school violence is one of the things young teachers are looking at” when deciding on staying in the profession.
Garner said members wish teachers had a stronger voice in the decision- making process of how to treat student discipline.