- Do the general student discipline rules apply to students with IEPs (Individual Education Plans) or Section 504 Plans?
Yes! Students with disabilities are protected by the general rules that apply to all students. Rules regarding discipline for students with disabilities give additional protections to make sure students are not punished for doing something that is caused by a disability, or by a school’s failure to implement their individualized plan (their “IEP”).
Find more information on discipline of students eligible for special education in the Education Issues section of our website, www.oeo.wa.gov, for Supports for Students with Disabilities, and on the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI)’s special education webpages, here: http://www.k12.wa.us/SpecialEd/Families/Behavior.aspx.
- Are discipline rules the same in Charter Schools?
Not necessarily. You should check with the school and look at the charter school’s contract for information about student discipline.
According to Washington State’s charter school law, charter schools are public schools, but they are operated separately from the state’s common school system and are an alternative to traditional common schools. They are subject to some of the same requirements as common schools, but not all of them. Student discipline is one area where there may be differences.
Every charter school’s plan must include information about its student discipline policies. Start by checking with the school for their discipline rules and procedures. You can also find the contracts for each charter school that has been approved by the Washington State Charter School Commission on the Commission’s website, under the Operating tab, here: http://charterschool.wa.gov/operating/contract/. The charter contracts for schools approved by the Spokane Public Schools are on the district’s website, here: https://www.spokaneschools.org/Page/2827.
- Are discipline rules the same in Tribal Compact Schools?
Not necessarily. You should check with the school and look at the school’s compact agreement for information about student discipline.
Washington State law authorizes OSPI to enter into state-tribal compacts for tribal compact schools. Tribal compact schools are exempt from state laws and rules governing schools, except for ones specified in the state-tribal education compact law. Tribal compact schools are required to comply with anti-discrimination laws, and laws protecting students with disabilities, but they are not subject to the state discipline laws or rules.
Check with the school for information about student discipline rules and procedures. You can also find the Compact for each of the existing Tribal State Compact Schools on OSPI’s Office of Native Education webpages, here: http://www.k12.wa.us/IndianEd/TribalSchools.aspx.
In addition to state-tribal compact schools, there are some tribal schools in Washington State funded by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education, and tribally controlled and/or operated according to a grant or contract. Check with the school for information about their discipline policies.
- Are schools required to use a positive behavior approach to student discipline?
Schools are not required to adopt a particular approach to discipline, but they are encouraged to develop school climates that support positive behavior. In general, that would mean focusing first on teaching and reinforcing appropriate behavior, and responding to misbehavior with consequences that keep students safe, and help them learn at the same time.
The Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has developed a Behavior Menu of Best Practices and Strategies that schools can look to for information and ideas on how to:
- develop school climates that support positive behavior;
- develop clear and fair reasonable rules that respect the diversity of their school communities; and
- respond effectively when school rules are broken.
Ask your child’s teacher, school counselor or principal about the school’s approach to student behavior.
- Can schools discipline students for things they say or write (freedom of speech)?
Maybe, depending on what they say. If a student makes threatening statements, engages in bullying or harassment of others, or causes a substantial disruption, they can face discipline at school. Students might also get in trouble for using vulgar language school, or talking about drugs or guns.
In a famous case from 1969, Tinker v. Des Moines, the U.S. Supreme Court explained that students do have the right to free speech, even at school, but their rights are not absolute. Schools can put reasonable rules in place, and students can face discipline if they express themselves in a way that would cause a substantial disruption, or harm to another person.
Since Tinker, there have been several more decisions about what kind of speech is protected at school, and what is not. New cases continue to raise new questions. You can find information from various sources online about students’ free speech rights in school. If you have questions about whether a particular student’s expression would be protected speech, that is a good time to seek legal advice.
- Can schools discipline students for things they post online, even if they are off-campus?
Maybe, depending on the circumstances. Schools are responsible for students when they are at school, or participating in school activities. Along with that responsibility, schools have authority to discipline students for things they do while at school, or while participating in school activities.
When kids are not at school or participating in school activities, generally, that means schools are not responsible, and do not have authority to discipline them.
What if a student does something while they are out of school that causes a disruption at school?
That is a question that schools and families are facing more and more frequently with the increase in social media and its ability to spread information so quickly.
There have been several cases taken to courts that challenge a school’s authority to discipline a student for something the student wrote or posted when they were at home, or out of school. If a student writes or posts something that is considered a threat against another student, an adult at school, or the school itself, they might find themselves in trouble at school, and potentially with law enforcement as well. Recently, courts have looked at whether something a student does when they are out of school would create a substantial disruption at school, when deciding whether schools have authority to discipline the student.
You can find information from various sources online about students’ rights in relation to off-campus or online speech and student discipline. One source for information about students’ free speech rights in schools is the Student Press Law Center, at www.splc.org. If you have questions about whether a particular student’s expression or conduct outside of school can be a basis for school discipline, that is a good time to seek legal advice.
- Talking with Kids about the Impact of Words
Talking with students about the impact of their words can help them stay out of trouble. Some of us grew up hearing “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” suggesting we shouldn’t worry about what others say. The reality is that students today can face significant consequences for saying things that might be considered threatening. Even if the school ultimately agrees there was no real threat, if there is a chance of a real threat, a school might start with an emergency expulsion to make time for an investigation.
At some point, most of us say things we wish we hadn’t, or make jokes we later realize were not funny. Students also might say or post things they don’t really mean. Taking time to talk with your child about the impact of words, and encouraging them to pause and think before posting, can help them stay out of trouble.
- What is corporal punishment, and is it allowed in schools in Washington?
Corporal punishment means physical punishment, or intentionally causing physical pain to a student. It is not allowed, and has not been allowed in Washington State since 1994. The ban on corporal punishment does not include situations where a school staff person uses physical restraint to prevent an imminent likelihood of serious harm.
Check out our Education Issues page on Restraint and Isolation to learn more about specific limitations on the use of physical restraints in schools in Washington, here: https://www.oeo.wa.gov/en/education-issues/restraint-and-isolation-students.