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Ultimate goal of new law is to minimize school expulsions

The Washington state legislature wants the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to find out if school discipline is denying Washington state children their right to an education.

A law was passed in June 2013 after a group of non-profit organizations surveyed school districts around the state and found that many schools don’t keep records of disciplinary actions.

The non-profits, led by TeamChild and Washington Appleseed, argued that kicking students out of school for disciplinary problems impacts minority students unfairly and results in a loss of educational opportunities for the students.

Further, the survey showed that districts varied in how they applied disciplinary measures, with some districts suspending or expelling students for relatively minor incidents, including non-violent infractions.

The legislature responded with a law that requires school districts to collect more data while addressing the most serious problems with expulsions and suspensions immediately.

The law requires OSPI to put together a task force to standardize the definitions of disciplinary incidents across all school districts in the state. The new standards will be applied in the 2015-16 school year. All school districts in Washington will be required to use the statewide database to record disciplinary actions.

The law also took immediate action for the 2013-14 school year. As of September 2013, the law put into place a one-year limit on suspensions and expulsions, eliminating the indefinite terms previously allowed.

In addition, the law requires school districts to convert emergency expulsions into another corrective action within 10 days. A student can no longer be expelled on an “emergency” basis indefinitely.

Schools will still be allowed to petition for longer terms of expulsion if a student poses a real threat to other students or staff, but the law also emphasizes alternate learning options for every student serving a suspension or expulsion.

The OSPI task force examining the problem has already met repeatedly and is well on the way to developing more precise definitions for causes of disciplinary action.

The task force has also started working on how data on incidents should be entered by districts into the statewide Comprehensive Education Data and Research System so the information can be reviewed.

In addition to collecting data about the types of incidents, the system will be collecting information on the types of intervention or alternate learning options offered by each school district.

The privacy of individual students will be protected, but the aggregated data will be available for study by the public.

The new data collected by the system will help shape future rule-making on disciplinary actions by school districts, with an ultimate goal of minimizing suspensions and expulsions.

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