Md Dems want to drop penalties for students who commit certain crimes at school

A proposal in the Maryland General Assembly would eliminate punishments for certain nonviolent disruptive behaviors committed by students on school property.

The bill, introduced by Delegate Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County) and Senator Alonzo Washington (D-Prince George’s County), aims to amend the state’s school security laws that currently prohibit and penalize students for engaging in “disturbing activities” at their school, including “molesting or threatening” other students. The sponsors clarify that the term “molesting” refers to harassing behavior, not sexual abuse.

Under the proposed amendment, disciplinary action would not be taken against students for these nonviolent disruptions occurring at their own school. The bill would also exempt students from punishment for threats against school employees, if the threats are made on school grounds.

Supporters argue the bill would stop the criminalization of typical adolescent misbehavior that should be handled internally by schools. Critics contend it goes too far in allowing threatening language and could jeopardize school safety.

The Maryland Department of Legislative Services’ analysis says the bill could impact public and private schools at all levels. Some worry it may limit colleges’ ability to address disruptive student behavior.

During a hearing, Del. Ruth asserted the bill would decriminalize normal student activities but still allow serious charges. “When a child is arrested in class, it impacts that child and others,” she said. “It creates shared trauma.”

Some opponents questioned whether the bill would restrict interventions by teachers when students act out. Del. Ruth responded that removing disruptive students from class can be traumatic for all.

State data shows over 50,000 Maryland students received out-of-school suspensions or expulsions last year. A quarter of incidents were for disruption or disrespect.

Sen. Washington defended the bill, saying too many suspensions occur for “subjective disruptions.” He expressed hope it would address the disproportionate disciplining of minority students.

Maryland is experiencing a surge in juvenile crime, raising concerns that reduced school discipline could make matters worse. The statewide teachers union declined to comment on the bill.

Del. Ruth did not respond to requests for comment before the hearing. The bill’s fate remains uncertain as lawmakers weigh school discipline versus criminalization.