State lawmakers passed a new law last year that, for the first time, puts a one-year limit on how long students can be suspended or expelled from school, with exceptions for those who pose a risk to public safety.
The new law also requires school districts to work with students and their parents on a plan to get students back in school.
Some of the provisions are pretty clear-cut, though many details have yet to be finalized — including just what those reentry plans should look like and what role students and parents might have in developing them.
The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction has come up with its proposals, and is now soliciting the public’s views. Comments and recommendations can be submitted by mail, email or fax — see details below. A public hearing is scheduled for May 5, from 10 a.m. to noon at OSPI’s offices, 234 8th Ave. in Olympia.
Some of the groups that lobbied for the law are expected to lobby for changes they’d like to see. The League of Education Voters, for example, would like districts to be required to meet with students and their parents as part of drawing up a plan to return to school. OSPI’s proposed rules say districts should do that, but not that they must.
Washington Appleseed’s list includes a very specific definition of what it means for a student to be a safety risk, which it says will live up to the law’s intent of minimizing the number of students expelled or suspended indefinitely.
To recap, here are some of the new law’s main provisions:
- All suspensions and expulsions are limited to one year, unless a superintendent grants a request for a longer one, which has to be based on risks to public health and safety. (Up until recently, there were no length limits.)
- Emergency expulsions must end within 10 days or be converted to another form of discipline
- Schools must come up with a plan to help students return to school after a suspension or expulsion
- The state must create a task force to look at improving the quality of data on school discipline, and come up with standard definitions for the causes of school discipline.
The task force is already underway, and its next meeting is May 12.
The State Board of Education voted in March in support of efforts to change school discipline practices, noting that districts across the state disciplined roughly 59,000 students in the 2012-13 school year, mostly for non-violent behavior.
The Board is encouraging districts to examine their policies in light of new guidance from the federal government.
Here’s where to send written comments on the proposed rules:
By mail: Jess Lewis, OSPI, P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504
Deadline is May 5.