School discipline gets new attention

State board OKs resolution aiming to improve practices

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The Washington State Board of Education adopted a discipline resolution at its recent meeting aimed at improving school discipline practices in Washington.

The board pledged to collaborate with districts and communities to promote best practices.

“We know that discipline practices affect students’ access to education and, ultimately, their success,” board chair Kristina Mayer said in a news release. “The data on student discipline indicates that certain student groups are being disciplined and excluded from the classroom at higher rates than other groups of students. We are concerned about the potential contribution of this disparity in discipline rates to the opportunity gap.”

Being removed from the classroom through in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension, expulsion, or other discipline practices has been found to negatively impact a student’s academic success.

Schools in Washington disciplined more than 59,000 students in the 2012-13 school year. In Washington, as in many states, students of color, low-income students, and special education students are suspended and expelled at higher rates.

In January, the U.S. Department of Education and Justice Department issued school discipline guidance that draws on emerging research and best practices to help guide state and local efforts to improve school climate and discipline policies, with the goal of reducing disproportionality in discipline practices.

The state board is encouraging school districts to collect and examine local discipline data and policies to look for concerning patterns in discipline practices and for policies that may benefit from revision in light of the new federal guidance.

Local angle: Safe environments top priority for local schools

During the 2012-13 school year, Clark County schools issued 4,489 suspensions and 231 expulsions. Representatives from the county’s three largest districts — Evergreen, Vancouver and Battle Ground — said their districts do seek positive interventions while keeping student safety a priority.

“Creating a safe and encouraging environment is always a top priority,” said Sean Chavez, spokesman for Battle Ground Public Schools. “Over the past year, the district has been updating our Skyward system to be more aligned with state policies and recommendations and use this system as our main tool to track and report discipline. The district strives to be proactive by encouraging positive interventions with students, modeling appropriate behavior and emphasizes character development.”

“We’ve been collaborating with OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction) and the federal government for the past two or three years working on this very issue,” said Ted Feller, executive director of secondary education for Evergreen Public Schools. “Our ultimate goal is that every single student graduate from our high schools to be competitive in college, career and life. We know that every exclusion (of a student) is detrimental to our goal, but we also have the responsibility to ensure a safe environment for all students. We’ve also engaged in finding the best ways for students to be successful, preventing these expulsions and suspensions. We have a team that’s getting training from OSPI to both prevent and respond to student misbehavior. Some of those results can be seen in our 49th Street Academy.”

“We strive to create a safe and supportive learning environment for all students,” said Steve Webb, superintendent of Vancouver Public Schools. “To this end, we have made it a priority to ensure that students have the skills to make good decisions about their behavior, that our educators have the necessary interventions and supports to guide students, and that discipline, when necessary, is applied appropriately and fairly.”

— Susan Parrish, The Columbian