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OSPI Draws Criticism For Proposed Delay In Implementing Some School Discipline Rules

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Washington lawmakers passed legislation in 2016 to limit the use of suspensions and expulsions in public education.

Washington lawmakers passed legislation two years ago to limit suspensions and expulsions in public education in response to data showing that some groups of students, including African-American and Native American children, are disciplined more frequently than others.

Now some advocates, including the ACLU of Washington, are raising concerns about the state superintendent’s timeline for implementing new discipline rules.

School districts are required to follow the state law on student discipline that was passed in 2016. For example, one big change required by the new law is that school districts have to provide students who are excluded from the school setting due to a suspension or expulsion an opportunity to continue to receive educational services.

Districts look to rules from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for guidance. OSPI has been doing a comprehensive rewrite of the rules.

“OSPI’s discipline rules have been rules on the books since the early ’70s and a lot has changed in the law and a lot has changed in the philosophy that educators use pertaining to student discipline,” said Dierk Meierbachtol, OSPI’s chief legal officer. “We felt that it was past time to revisit those rules.”

The agency originally planned to put all of the new rules in place by this fall but now is proposing to implement some of them the following school year. Meierbachtol said OSPI received a lot of comments on previous versions of the draft rules. School districts, in particular, said they would need additional time for training staff and to engage with their communities on what the new rules require, he said.

But some advocates and at least one state lawmaker are expressing frustration with the delay.

Democratic Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, who co-sponsored the legislation, said she’d like the rules to be put into place more quickly.

“My belief is that when kids act up, they need us more and not less,” she said. “Every time we delay a process like this, we are putting those kids at risk.”

The ACLU of Washington collected more than 1,200 signatures for a letter that it submitted to OSPI urging the agency to implement all of the rules this fall.

“It’s been more than three years since the original legislation requiring school discipline rule changes was introduced and two years since it became effective, but every day that the rules are delayed denies Washington students the opportunity to stay in school and continue learning,” said Michele Storms, deputy director of the ACLU of Washington.

OSPI will hold a public hearing at 10:30 am in Olympia on Wednesday.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.