As School Suspensions Plummet, Parents Feel Less Safe
BALTIMORE (WBFF) - A Baltimore County couple says they’re being forced to make a drastic decision to keep their son safe.
Jared Haga is a fourth grader at Pine Grove Elementary in Baltimore County. His family says last fall he began to be bullied.
“Kids threaten me and throw things at me,” Jared told Fox45.
Jared’s mother and stepfather, Josh and Nicole Landers, say they don’t feel safe sending their son to school. Since the bullying began, they’ve filed four complaints with the school. But the parents say things took a terrible turn, when Nicole found her son sitting in a corner of their home with a note on his chest. Jared had written “Kill me. I mean nothing. I have isues(sic).”
“I grabbed him up in my arms, and held him tight,” says Nicole Landers. “You just grab them up and hold them tight tell them that their life does have meaning.”
The next day, the Landers went to the school.
“I pleaded with them,” says Josh Landers. “I said, if you had a child that wrote this, what would you do? I'm begging you to take action. I'm begging you.”
Baltimore County Public Schools declined an interview with Fox45 to discuss its bullying policy. But we did receive a statement that read, “Our commitment is providing safe and orderly learning environments for each of our 113,000 students through proactive and comprehensive staffing, policy, equipment, technology, and training. We take safety seriously, and we know that this priority is essential to helping every student grow and thrive.”
Following the bullying reports, Jared’s school did draw up a safety plan. But the family says the bullying continued because the bully wasn’t disciplined or removed from the class, even after the parents say Jared was punched in the face and thrown in mud.
“There's just a complete breakdown in discipline across the board as the schools try to just suppress disciplinary events versus deal with disciplinary events, so that they don't rack up on their ratios, their suspension ratios,” says Nicole.
Over the past decade, Maryland schools have seen significant drops in suspensions. Project Baltimore compiled 10 years of in-school and out-of-school suspension data for Baltimore County. In 2007, the County had a total of 23,345 suspensions. By 2017, that number plummeted to 9,729.
The Maryland State Board of Education, in the past, was concerned students of color and those with disabilities were being disproportionally suspended. So, the state pushed to reduce disciplinary action like suspensions.
The Landers says that has led to schools looking safer on paper, but not in reality. They don’t see it changing, so they are making a change.
“We are withdrawing our kids at the end of this year,” says Nicole. “It will be a big burden. Close to a $20,000 burden a year to figure out by September, but we'll figure that out.”