The following is a press release from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction:
In the 1970s, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction established rules for student discipline. Although the rules matched the era, they are, by today’s standards, outdated.
New rules, formally adopted on July 30 by OSPI, encourage schools to use best practices when addressing student behavior – which should decrease the use of suspensions and expulsions.
“The state discipline rules were created four decades ago,” said Chris Reykdal, Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Our students and schools are vastly different today. The new rules provide more clarity and they allow for student, family, and community input in developing local discipline policies.”
“While some students do occasionally need discipline, our approach must be different,” he said. “We should do what we can to make suspensions and expulsions the last option while ensuring our schools are safe. The numbers are clear: This is an equity issue, and some groups of students are impacted much more than others.”
In the 2016–17 school year, 3.5 percent of all students in the state were suspended or expelled. However, the rates of discipline were much higher than the average for certain groups of students. Among students receiving special education services, the percentage was 7.1 percent. For Black/African-American students, the percentage was 7.4 percent, and for Hispanic/Latino students, the rate was 4.1 percent.
The Washington State Legislature passed a law in 2016 that aimed to help close opportunity gaps in learning. The passage of the bill pushed OSPI to update the student discipline rules that had been on the books since the 1970s. In rewriting the outdated rules, the agency gathered feedback from families, students, educators and community members through three public comment periods and eight public hearings.
The new rules will help guide school discipline policies, so rules are applied fairly across the state. They also require districts to include parents and guardians when updating their discipline policies.
In general, the rules:
■ encourage schools to use best practices while minimizing the use of suspensions and expulsions;
■ prohibit schools from excluding students from school for absences or tardiness;
■ further limit the use of exclusionary discipline for behaviors that do not present a threat to school safety;
■ prohibit the use of expulsion for students in kindergarten through grade four; and
■ clarify expectations for how school districts must provide students the opportunity to receive educational services during a suspension or expulsion.
“We were happy to see OSPI approach the discipline rules by engaging stakeholder groups through a long and exhaustive process,” said Scott Seaman, the executive director of the Association of Washington School Principals. “While not every group is going to agree on every single word of the final rules, we can all agree on the importance of reducing suspensions and keeping our kids in school, and hopefully, keep working together to make it the reality for all the students in our state.”
Because the rule changes are so comprehensive, they are being phased-in during the next two school years. This will give school districts time to implement new procedures, train staff and engage with parents, families and the community.
Starting this year, for example, the new rules will not allow schools to suspend or expel a student from school for absences or tardiness. Starting in 2019–20, additional conditions and limitations on the use of suspension, expulsion and emergency expulsion will go into effect.
Districts must give a suspended or expelled student the opportunity to receive educational services. The new rules require that the student be allowed to continue to participate in the general education curriculum; to meet educational standards; and to complete subject, grade-level, and graduation requirements.
“Every day students are suspended or expelled is a day their education is disrupted,” Reykdal said. “The new rules will minimize that disruption.”
State law requires that a student expelled or suspended for longer than 10 days (called a long-term suspension) has a “re engagement plan” in place before they return to school. District officials must meet with the student to create the plan within 20 days of the suspension and no later than five days before the expulsion or suspension ends. The new discipline rules provide that a school district must hold the re engagement meeting sooner if the family requests an early meeting.