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New WA School Discipline Rules Yet to be Finalized

December 30, 2013

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A state law meant to clarify how Washington school districts deal with discipline problems was passed in June - but the rules still haven't been finalized. The law was passed because policies for suspending and expelling students have varied widely among districts and disproportionately affect students of color. A 2012 survey revealed not all school districts have even kept records of their disciplinary actions.

Chris Korsmo, executive director of the League of Education Voters, explained the law now requires emergency expulsions to be converted to another form of discipline within 10 days.

"What we do know is, keeping kids in school has far better consequences than expelling those kids from school. Sending kids home, they're maybe going to be unsupervised and they're not going to get any learning time. It's obvious that in-school suspension would be far more desirable than just putting kids out," Korsmo said.

The rule-making process is moving too slowly, she added, which is putting some students at risk.

The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) acknowledges the need for better discipline records. Mike Donlin, who supervises the OSPI School Safety Center, said having more and better data should help address issues of racial disproportionality. He added that they also plan a greater focus on mental health services.

"Sometimes there's other stuff going on, and the risk factors that affect students are not simply what would fall into a discipline category - they need more," said Donlin. "We're looking at those things, as well. Hopefully, in the end, we can put this package together and it'll have all the supports needed, for all the students."

According to OSPI, the changes may involve more training for teachers and more staff to do the record-keeping and administer the suspension and re-engagement plans.

Donlin said a Student Discipline Task Force is expected to have draft rules ready for public comment "soon," meaning early in 2014. The process is technically ahead of schedule, he noted, since the rules do not have to be in place until the start of the school year in 2015.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA