Board alters school discipline policy

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By John Larson
jlarson@tacomaweekly.com

Suspending a student is one method of punishing them for misbehavior on campus, although its use has come under scrutiny in Tacoma, especially its use for young children. In response to a recent change in state law, Tacoma School Board voted to revise its policy on Sept. 12

General Counsel Renee Trueblood spoke with the board about the discipline policy, which was last revised in 2016. A team of staff members was assembled to make revisions. It included Laura Allen, director of Whole Child; Eric Hogan, assistant director of secondary education; Whole Child Coordinator Kristi Greenaway and Trueblood. A version of the new policy was distributed to members of the public for feedback.

The new policy ends long-term suspension or expulsion of students in grades kindergarten through fourth, except for firearm possession. A short-term suspension can no longer exceed 10 cumulative school days in an academic term. In the last school year, 4.1 percent of Tacoma Public Schools third-graders had at least one suspension or expulsion.

Trueblood said the new policy addresses disproportionality in the use of suspension. For example, according to data from the state, during the 2013-14 school year, 11.8 percent of black students in Tacoma were suspended or expelled, compared to 5 percent of white students.

Three times a year the district will examine the new policy and devise a reporting system for disciplinary actions, which would taken into account the location of the school and the ethnic background of the student.

Trueblood noted that suspensions could still be meted out in certain circumstances. These are generally examples of extreme safety issues, such as bringing a weapon to school or making a threat of violence.

There are plans to offer training on de-escalation and a focus on student mental health, such as those dealing with anxiety and depression.

Board member Scott Heinze said he feels the new direction on discipline will create a better outcome for students. “I am confident the policy sets the stage for that.”

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