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Expelled Wash. Students Will Have To Meet With Teachers, Parents Before Returning To School

Eric E Castro

Parents and teachers of a student who's been expelled from a Washington school will likely have to meet together before the student is allowed to attend classes again, according to new state rules up for public review Monday.

"You would think it was happening before, but it absolutely wasn't happening before," said Linda Mangel, education policy director for the ACLU of Washington, who noted the new guideline comes as part of a change in state law.

A coalition of advocacy groups had pushed for the change, which now bars Washington schools from kicking students out of classes indefinitely, capping the length of long-term suspensions and expulsions at one year.

"I think we're really to the point now where people are starting to get it. They know suspensions and expulsions don't work. They're ready to try something new," said Tracy Sherman, a policy analyst for the League of Education Voters, which pushed the Legislature for the change.

School officials suspended or expelled more than 59,000 students in Washington state in 2012-13, according to state figures. Federal data suggest the state's African-American students face a much greater likelihood of being suspended or expelled than do white or Latino students.

Though educators face a tough balancing act between getting troubled students help and maintaining order and discipline, civil rights advocates fear disciplined students too often end up in the "school-to-prison pipeline." Mangel said students who get expelled often find themselves with nowhere to go.

"All too often, where they go is the juvenile justice system," Mangel said. "So the schools kick them out, and there's nobody there to catch them."

That's why Sherman said the League of Education Voters advocated for requiring schools to hold "reengagement meetings" between parents or guardians, students and district staff.

"Reengagement meetings are really an opportunity for the student, the parents and the school to plan for the student's return. That could mean everything from academic supports to behavior supports — really anything for the student to return, have a clear process for what that's going to look like," Sherman said.

Both Sherman and Mangel say they hope state officials will add more specifics to the new rules to make them more prescriptive.

State officials will hold a public hearing on the proposed rules in Olympia and are accepting comments on the rules through Monday.

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.