A state law passed last year bans Washington schools from kicking a student out of school for good, instead placing a one-year limit on suspensions and expulsions.
Senate Bill 5946 also says schools “should make efforts” to get the student back in school as soon as possible, and hold a reengagement meeting with the student’s parents within 20 days of the punishment to develop a plan to get the student back in school.
The Office of Superintendent Public Instruction is finalizing procedures related to the new law, and about 50 people appeared at a public hearing on Monday to weigh in. Another 1,500 people submitted comments by email.
A working draft of the changes is expected to be completed by the end of the month, and the finalized rules would take effect at the start of the 2014-15 school year, according to OSPI.
Many of those who spoke at Monday’s hearing said that minorities and special education students face a disproportionate amount of discipline in public schools. School officials suspended or expelled more than 59,000 students in Washington schools in 2012-13, according to state data.
An analysis of the data by Washington Appleseed, a non-profit advocacy group, found that black students in Seattle were expelled at five times the rate as white students in the 2012-13 school year.
Katie Mosehauer of Washington Appleseed said the figures also show that the majority of students are being disciplined for “relatively minor behaviors,” such as disobedience, violating the dress code or truancy.
Mosehauser’s group wants OSPI to change the procedures so that reengagement meetings with parents are mandatory. She also wants a stronger appeals process and for the law to apply to all students, regardless of when they were expelled.
But others say that the proposals could jeopardize the safety of the students and teachers.
Under the law, schools can petition for a punishment that exceeds the one year limit for students who pose a threat to “public health or safety.” Emergency expulsions must be changed to another form of corrective action within 10 days.
Parker Howell, an attorney for the Washington Association of School Principals, said those parts of the law have generated confusion, and don’t offer clear guidance on how to handle emergency expulsions.
“In some cases, returning a student to school prematurely can entail safety risks and we must be thinking of the safety concerns of the other students and staff,” said Howell.
He pointed to a $1.3 million jury verdict awarded to two students who were stabbed by a fellow classmate in a restroom at Snohomish High School. The attacker had previously been suspended for threatening students.
Howell said under the current rules, a school administrator can only expel a student for violating school rules. He suggested changing the rule so students can be expelled for posing a safety risk.
Several parents and guardians of special education students also spoke at the meeting, and said they were grateful for the new law. Others representing minority communities also say it is long overdue.
Structural inequalities in Washington schools have resulted in a “school-to-prison pipeline,” said Thelma Jackson of the Washington Alliance of Black School Educators.
“Given the deplorable situation in discipline for many schools in Washington state, I am very glad to finally see some movement to remedy the unjust and unfair practices that have been going on in most of our schools for quite some time,” Jackson said.
TVW taped the hearing — it will be archived at this link.