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Washington State Moves to Block the School-to-Prison Pipeline

October 31, 2016
Benjamin Chambers

school-discipline_WAThis year marks more progress in Washington State in shutting down the pipeline that pushes young people into the justice system. New legislation this year builds on reforms passed in 2013 through the work of NJJN member, TeamChild, and its partners on the ground. The 2013 legislation (ESSB 5946) put an end to open-ended expulsions by limiting them to a year and required reengagement plans for expelled and suspended students. The legislation also required the state to improve data collection and to make disaggregated discipline data publicly available. (You can see our 2013 article here.) This year’s legislation, 4SHB 1541, is a comprehensive reform bill that puts a cap on the length of exclusions to one academic term and requires districts to provide educational services to students during any period of disciplinary exclusion. This bill also recognizes persistent racial disparities in school discipline practices.

“We’re encouraged by seeing school districts embrace the new law and working on out how to meet it,” says Annie Lee, executive director of TeamChild. “They’re asking, ‘What are we going to do? How will we serve these students?’ That’s a good conversation to have.”

To help with implementation, TeamChild is working with smaller local coalitions that, Lee hopes, will inform what school districts do to ensure suspended and expelled students maintain access to education and to keep them on track. For example, TeamChild has been working closely with the Every Student Counts Coalition in Spokane to successfully advocate for a resolution from the superintendent of the Spokane Public Schools to launch the two-year Positive and Restorative Practices Initiative to reduce exclusionary discipline, racial and ethnic discipline disparities, and the number of students referred to the youth justice system.

TeamChild is also involved in the South King County Discipline Coalition, which has spent the past year exploring how to give power and access to resources to communities most impacted by discipline. As an example, the coalition created a grantmaking process that pushed funds out to 17 small, community-based efforts.  “It’s been a great experience for the coalition and its membership," Lee says. "We so appreciate the leadership from the community members in setting the priorities and driving the coalition’s work forward."

Photo:  Flickr User Steven Depolo

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