Washington state’s new school discipline rules will continue to shift schools away from suspensions and expulsions in favor of policies that keep kids in the building for minor offenses.
The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction recently adopted updated rules for student discipline as part of a broader effort to close opportunity gaps between students of different races.
The new rules, which were crafted through feedback from students, parents, educators and community leaders, will be phased in over the next two years, the Snoqualmie Valley Record reports.
For 2018-19, the state is prohibiting schools from suspending or expelling any student for excessive absences or tardiness, with additional restrictions set for next school year. The new rules encourage schools to use best practices to minimize suspensions and expulsions, particularly in response to behaviors that do not pose a threat to school safety. The rules will also ban the expulsion of students through fourth grade, and require schools to clarify how students can continue their education if they are suspended or expelled for students above grade four.
Snoqualmie Valley School District Assistant Superintendent Jeff Hogan told the news site he supports the changes, which are consistent with his district’s move toward a softer student discipline approach in recent years.
“We started changing our policies to keep students in school and engaged rather than stunt their education over more minor offenses,” Hogan said. “Back in the day if a student skipped school, it was the policy to suspend them. Seems kind of counterproductive, don’t you think?”
The new state rules ensure suspended or expelled students can participate in the general education curriculum to complete their classwork and graduation requirements, though those sent home for more than 10 days will now be required to secure a reengagement plan before returning to school, the Valley Record reports.
At Snoqualmie Valley and other districts, officials plan to rely more on punishments like community service, restitution and in-school suspensions to keep kids learning when they’re out of class.
“Our goals are to give appropriate discipline to students and to shorten suspension and get kids reengaged as quickly as possible for when they are suspended for serious offenses,” Hogan said.
Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture have noted how discipline policies help students do the right thing can be more effective than simply imposing punishment.
Institute founder James Davison Hunter explains in “The Death of Character” that moral autonomy is an individual’s capacity to freely make ethical decision, because “controlled behavior cannot be moral behavior, for it removes the element of discretion and judgement.”
By helping students work through conflicts and behavior issues, through restorative justice practices or counseling that help them freely atone for their behaviors, they gain the moral autonomy to do the right thing, for the right reasons.
The blog Academike takes a deeper look at “Reformative Theory of Punishment,” as well as the concept of restorative justice that’s taking root in both schools and the criminal justice system.
“Crime is a violation of people and relationships. It creates obligations to make things right,” according to the blog. “Justice involves the victim, the offender, and the community in a search for solutions that promote repair, reconciliation and reassurance.”
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