In Washington there is no requirement to provide expelled students any education while out of the classroom, creating a cascade of problems when they return. Lawmakers are close to passing a bill to change that.
Expelled students are the ones few want to discuss. They cause trouble for teachers. They worry other kids. But statewide, more than 600 are removed from school — sometimes up to a year — for infractions that involve neither violence nor drugs.
Until now, there has been no requirement to educate these expelled students, nor those suspended for long periods of time, though most are expected to return to some classroom, somewhere. To Ted Howard, longtime principal at Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central Area, that disconnect sounds like a recipe for creating drop-outs and, eventually, filling prisons.
“It’s ridiculous that we’re required to provide an education to students but when they get in trouble, we’re not,” he said. “Our job is to educate kids, but this is creating a population who fall right into that prison pipeline.”
Late Friday afternoon, the Senate passed a bill aimed at addressing this, by limiting time out of school for most discipline problems and requiring that districts provide opportunities for kids to continue their education, even when removed from class. That could include tutoring, online education or an alternative school.
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A similar bill has already passed the House, which makes a final sign-off likely.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that it would cost $1.8 million per year to provide an education to expelled or suspended students statewide. The total number of student expulsions tops 2,000 a year. The proposed law would limit to one semester the amount of time nonviolent kids can be removed from school.
In Seattle last year, Interagency Academy worked with 151 such students, according to Principal Kaaren Andrews, who said there has been little counseling or academic help available to these kids if they attempt to return to traditional schools. Many, not surprisingly, choose to remain with Interagency. The few who want to return to a school like Garfield have an uphill battle.
This is what galls both principals, who sometimes find themselves at odds over what to do.
Howard fumes at the lack of state money for reentry counselors, tutors, mental health aides or drug-abuse prevention at Garfield. Andrews points at unrealistic expectations.
“People expect that a kid comes to us, does one semester at Interagency and goes back fixed, like everything’s perfect,” she said.
The reality is not so simple. In hallways that feel a world away from the rotunda in Olympia, Howard is juggling 175 homeless kids at Seattle’s storied Garfield High, a school better known for vaulting advanced students into college than providing remedial education to hundreds who never get that far.
“There’s been a lot of focus on education funding the last few years,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, hailing the Senate vote. But “fully funding a broken system will not get us the educational outcomes we want when the deck is stacked against so many of our kids.”