Note: This information is from our manual, Discipline in Public Schools.
Every student living in Washington State has a right to access a free public education. Along with their rights, students have responsibilities, including following school rules. If rules get broken, school districts can give consequences to ensure student safety, support students in meeting behavior expectations, and prevent disruption of the learning environment. While schools can sometimes remove a student from the classroom, or from the school entirely, they cannot discipline a student by taking away all access to education. When a student is facing discipline, schools must make sure the student has a chance to tell their side of the story and voice an opinion about whether the discipline action is fair. Students - like all people - make mistakes, and might find themselves in trouble at school. If they do, you can help them by trying to understand what happened, why it happened, and how to help them avoid making similar mistakes in the future. Educators – even the very best of them – also make mistakes, and sometimes discipline students unfairly, by imposing consequences when a student did not actually misbehave, or with discipline that is unfairly harsh. Because the stakes are high, and sometimes mistakes are made, students and families have the right to challenge a decision to suspend or expel a student. If you start to notice problems at school, it is important to try to address them right away. In Washington State, school districts are encouraged to administer student discipline in a way that:
- responds to the needs and strengths of students;
- supports students in meeting the school's behavior expectations; and
- keeps students in classrooms as much as possible.
This process requires collaboration between schools and families. Washington state law, at RCW 28A.600.020, requires educators to attempt to involve parents and students early on in efforts to improve student behavior and resolve discipline issues. State law, at RCW 28A.320.211, also requires districts to involve families, as well as other members of school communities, in the periodic review and updating of district wide rules, policies and procedures. We hope this guide will help students, families and schools work through discipline issues in a way that keeps students in classrooms as much as possible, in safe, positive learning environments, and ensures fairness and equity in student discipline.
What is in this Guide?
This guide gives information about Washington State laws and rules on student discipline, including:
- What authority school districts have to impose discipline,
- What rights students and families have when a student faces discipline, and
- How a student can keep up with their school work and get back to school after a suspension or expulsion.
The laws and rules cited in this publication can be found in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) in Chapter 28A.600 and in the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) in Chapter 392-400. You can find both state laws (RCWs) and rules (WACs) at www.leg.wa.gov. This guide provides legal information, but not legal advice. Please reach out to a lawyer if you need legal advice or representation. Also, this guide includes information that is up-to-date as of its most recent revision. However, laws and rules around student discipline have been changing frequently in the past several years, and more changes will take effect starting with the 2019-20 school year, so be sure to check for updates. We hope this guide will answer many questions about student discipline, but it won't answer them all. Please do not hesitate to reach out to our office if you have any questions or concerns relating to student discipline in Washington's k-12 public schools. You can find us online at www.oeo.wa.gov, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 1-866-297-2597.
Do these 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 IEP. Find more information relating to the 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, in the Department of Innovation section 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. If you have questions or concerns about the plan or want to understand better how it works, you can ask for a meeting with the teacher or principal. There may be a specific program or curriculum that your child's school is using, or a system that the school has developed itself. You might get information at the beginning of the year about a behavior program in your child's school that may include some key goals or behavioral expectations that all students will work on during the year. If your child's school is using a program or has a set of key goals or behavioral expectations for the whole school, it can be very helpful if you talk about those at home. You might have different norms and expectations for behavior in the home, and you don't have to change those to match the school. However, helping your child become familiar with the language of behavioral expectations used at school, and what it means, can help them be successful in meeting those expectations at school.
Join the Discipline Policy Design and Review Processes in Your District
Each school district has some flexibility in deciding how to approach student discipline. When making decisions about discipline policy, and when reviewing discipline data, districts need input from the whole school community. Check in with your school district office for opportunities to share your ideas and weigh in on the discipline policy and practices in your district.