The Tacoma School District is changing the way it hears appeals on student discipline decisions involving long-term suspensions or expulsions.
Students and their parents have a right to challenge decisions about discipline handed down by authorities at the school level.
Prior practice had those appeals handled by the school board in closed sessions. But in late 2013, the board adopted a new policy aimed at getting hearings scheduled quicker. It said appeals would be heard by a disciplinary appeal council that includes community volunteers who receive training from the school district.
Earlier this month, the school board named six people — three community volunteers and three administrators — to the appeal council. Each appeal will be heard by a three-person panel that includes one member of the board, who will chair the proceedings, one community volunteer and one administrative representative. Those sessions will also be closed to the public.
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Hearing appeals is one of the jobs of the board.
Debbie Winskill, school board member
But board member Debbie Winskill abstained from the vote, citing her objections to the new strategy. She had earlier voted against changing the appeals process.
“Hearing appeals is one of the jobs of the board,” she said. “I think it should stay with the board. It tells us what is happening in the schools.”
She also questioned whether administrators would be willing to override decisions made by principals and other administrative colleagues.
But board member Scott Heinze said he believes inclusion of community members will make the discipline appeals process more transparent.
The people selected will represent the community
Scott Heinze, school board member
He said that’s important, particularly when it’s been shown that students of color, especially male students of color, face school discipline at higher rates than other students.
“This, to me, is the right approach,” he said. “The people selected will represent the community.”
Shannon McMinimee, attorney for Tacoma Public Schools, said appeal councils are used in many of the state’s large school districts, including Seattle.
“Sometimes you need another perspective, the community perspective,” she said.
McMinimee said one of the reasons for changing the procedure is because in the past, it has sometimes been difficult to gather a quorum of three board members in a timely manner to hear the appeals, which are conducted outside of regular board meetings. Meanwhile, students had to wait for hearings to find out if they could return to school.
Appeals of long-term suspensions and expulsions are heard first by an outside hearing officer hired by the district. After that, they can go to the appeal council.
Community members of the appeal council appointed by the school board are:
▪ Pamela E. Duncan, a city of Tacoma human services manager who oversees nonprofit programs under contract with the city.
▪ Lester Pogue, a general contractor who serves as part of The Black Collective’s education committee and a member of the statewide Black Education Strategy Roundtable.
▪ Benjamin Warner, executive director of Alchemy Skateboarding, which seeks to engage youth through the popular activity of skateboarding.
District administrators named to the appeal council are:
▪ Autumn Foster, principal of Roosevelt Elementary School
▪ John Coalson, assistant principal at Gray Middle School
▪ Bernadette Ray, assistant principal at Wilson High School.