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Originally published Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 4:32 PM

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Editorial: Time out for school discipline

Minority students and students with disabilities suffer the most from school discipline that too easily employs suspensions and expulsions.

Seattle Times Editorial

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SCHOOL discipline protocols and procedures were already under scrutiny, and should draw even more attention after a disturbing report by the Obama administration.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan last week released a series of guidelines for rethinking how schools maintain safe learning environments.

The recommendations are grounded in nationwide statistical data that “show youths of color and youths with disabilities are disproportionately impacted by suspensions and expulsions.”

Educating our children is already fraught with financial, learning, instructional and social issues that compound worries about achievement gaps and steady progress through 12 years of school and beyond.

Being in class and in front of a teacher is basic, but it turns out many, many students are booted out of school for random reasons, and because it is easy to do.

Duncan quotes one study that found “95 percent of out-of-school suspensions were for nonviolent, minor disruptions such as tardiness and disrespect.”

None of the discussion is about compromising safety for students, teachers or staff. Instead, the challenge is to try harder to find out the underlying causes of the misbehavior. Train staff, involve parents and help the students get past the issues in their lives that fuel disruptive behavior.

As Seattle Times reporter Linda Shaw noted last week in a report for the newspaper’s Education Lab, how best to monitor school discipline is a widespread issue.

Questions about how discipline is handled across racial and economic lines have been raised in Washington state school districts on both sides of the Cascades.

The U.S. secretary of education’s list of guidelines describe a path forward:

• Set high expectations for behavior and adopt an institutional approach to discipline.

• Involve families, students and school personnel and communicate regularly and clearly.

• Ensure that clear, developmentally appropriate and proportional consequences apply for misbehavior.

• Create policies that include appropriate procedures for students with disabilities and due process for all students.

• Remove students from the classroom only as a last resort, ensure that alternative settings provide academic instruction and return students to class as soon as possible.

Duncan makes a point that should drive all these efforts and be the benchmark for performance: “In view of the essential link between instructional time and academic achievement, schools should strive to keep students in school and engaged in learning to the greatest extent possible.”

The data-driven evidence makes it clear that booting kids out of school is the default option of choice. The stakes are too high for that to continue.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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