For the first time, Washington state education leaders are officially stating that school discipline must be “culturally responsive” and families and communities must be part of efforts to address student misbehavior.
In a series of proposed new policies to make school discipline fairer, the state’s education department has spelled out several guiding values. Parents, students and teachers will have a chance to weigh in at four public hearings over the next two months.
The new language heartened Vanessa Hernandez, education equity director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, who often fields complaints from parents reporting that their perspectives are ignored when schools send disruptive students home.
“Parents want to be treated as at least equal partners in their children’s education,” said Hernandez, offering cautious optimism at the gist of the new rules.
“They lay out the purpose of discipline as something to help students achieve personal and academic success. And also to keep students in the classroom as much as possible. That’s a good thing and completely new,” she said.
The proposed updates come in response to a new state law and mounting evidence that black students and those with disabilities are suspended and expelled at rates that far outstrip any other group — even for similar infractions.
Among the new rules:
- No student can be suspended for being late or skipping classes.
- No child younger than fifth grade can be expelled (except for those who bring firearms to school).
- Any student who is suspended, even short-term, must receive schoolwork, a chance to make up assignments and academic help, if needed, while at home.
- During any long-term suspension or expulsion, schools must work with the student’s family to create a tailored plan for returning that’s culturally sensitive.
- Every district must track the race, economic and disability status of disciplined students, including those sent to in-school suspension rooms.
Many districts already have incorporated these policies, but not without some difficulties. In Highline, dozens of teachers resigned at the end of the 2015-16 school year, many complaining of chaotic classrooms that resulted from principals’ increasing reluctance to issue suspensions. Yet, the teachers said, administrators didn’t adequately address classroom disruption in other ways.
Discipline is “a tough and complicated issue,” acknowledged Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association. But the teachers union does endorse the thrust of these new policies, he said. In fact, they’d like to see “social justice being the primary goal.”
In recent meetings across the state, students told union members that they wished teachers took the time to build strong relationships with them before resorting to suspension, Wood added.
Hearings on discipline rules
Oct. 17, 1:30-4:30 p.m.
Educational Service District 101, Classroom 1, 4202 S. Regal St., Spokane
Oct. 30, 3-6 p.m.
Educational Service District 105, Klickitat Room, 33 S. Second Ave., Yakima
Nov. 7, 1-5 p.m.
Educational Service District 121, Cedar/Duwamish Room, 800 Oakesdale Ave., Renton
Nov. 13, 1-4 p.m.
Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Brouillet Room, 600 Washington St. S.E., Olympia