A two-year study by a Seattle-based education advocacy group finds students are losing valuable education time and often dropping out of school because the state allows districts to expel and suspend students indefinitely.
The report, authored by the Washington Appleseed Project, looked at records from 183 of the state’s 295 districts. In the 2009-2010 school year, “exclusionary discipline” caused students to miss “at least 70,000 days of school.” It also found only 7% of students received education while expelled and often left school altogether.
“It’s hard to say how prevalent this is,” explained Katie Mosehauer from Washington Appleseed Project. “Here’s tens of thousands of incidents of exclusion and we think that’s too many.”
Mosehauer said Washington is unique in allowing districts to indefinitely suspend or expel students. The state allows “emergency expulsions” where administrators immediately remove students from school. In hundreds of cases, Mosehauer said, those students end up “in limbo.”
“Quite contradictory for what our constitution says,” she said. “We can have children out for 90 days, or if it’s an emergency, that’s an indefinite expulsion from school.”
Highline School District in Burien had the third most expulsions in the 2009-2010 year, according to the report. Principal Damon Hunter said Tuesday his school has implemented a new policy over the last three years to move from expelling students to suspending them and allowing them to continue studying.
“When you have that many students out away from getting education, you have to reassess what those policies are,” said Hunter.
Hunter said the school’s goal is to have “no expulsions” by 2015.
Advocates suggest indefinite expulsions make it difficult for troubled teenagers to continue their education. Gilbert Camacho, who attends Chief Sealth High School, received a long-term suspension because “his fingers smelled like marijuana.”
“I’d rather be at school,” Camacho said. “It makes you not want to even come back.”
Camacho’s brother Luis graduated from the same school last year. He was supposed to graduate one year earlier, but couldn’t because he too was suspended for “accidentally” bringing a two-inch knife to school.
“I was already eighteen and I was ready to give up,” he explained. “I used to think I wish they would suspend me, so I wouldn’t have to go to school.”
Luis, like other similar students, was forced to move to another school in order to get back to Chief Sealth.
“It’s like putting a pause on education,” he said.
Advocates plan to push for new laws at the next legislative session. In particular:
- Reduce the use of out-of-school expulsions
- Require districts to educate suspended students
- Ensure no student is indefinitely expelled
- Track the status of expelled children