Note: This information is from our manual, Discipline in Public Schools.
- State laws and rules:
The Washington State legislature has passed various laws addressing student discipline in public schools, and the State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has developed state discipline rules.
Links to state laws and rules relating to student discipline are posted on OSPI’s webpage on Student Discipline, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/support-programs/student-discipline. Various sections of the state law, in the Revised Code of Washington (RCW) are listed under the “Revised Code of Washington” tab on that page. The state rules on school discipline are in Chapter 392-400 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC). You can find both state laws (RCWs) and rules (WACs) at www.leg.wa.gov.
The state rules give each school district some freedom to decide what kinds of behavior might lead to discipline, what kind of consequences or strategies a school might use to respond to minor misbehavior, and what process the district will use to hear concerns about discipline on the school bus, at recess, or during extra-curricular activities.
- District policies and procedures:
Under Washington State law, each school district is responsible for adopting policies and procedures that describe the rights and expectations for students in their district. School districts must develop those policies and procedures with input from the whole school community, including teachers, staff, and families.
You can generally find district policies and procedures on district websites, or by calling the district office. You can also ask at your school district office about opportunities to participate in future reviews and updates of your district’s discipline policy.
- School and Classroom Expectations:
Many schools develop school-wide expectations for behavior.
Student and parent handbooks generally include information about school rules and the kinds of consequences students might face if they violate school rules.
Individual teachers may also develop behavior expectations for their particular classrooms. They may have handouts that explain their expectations, or share this information through class newsletters or emails to families. Some teachers take time at the beginning of the school year to develop a set of agreed upon rules or behavior expectations with their students.
To make sure you and your child understand what the rules and expectations are:
- Read through the student handbook together. If there are parts of it that do not make sense, check in with the Principal for clarification;
- Ask your child about the behavior expectations in their classroom, and whether there are additional rules for classes like P.E., art, music or for recess; and
- Ask your child’s teachers about any additional classroom expectations.
- Are there any rules that apply in every public school in the state?
Yes, there are some rules that apply to students across the state.
Students have to attend school regularly. (You can learn more about attendance requirements in our Attendance Toolkit, in the Education Issues section of our website, https://www.oeo.wa.gov/en, or by clicking here: https://www.oeo.wa.gov/en/education-issues/attendance-and-truancy).
Here are some additional rules all schools have:
School Bus: If students ride the school bus, they have to follow the bus rules and the driver’s directions.
Bullying/Harassment: All schools are required to have policies prohibiting bullying and harassment, and your child’s school should take time to make sure students understand them, and how to follow the rules to avoid bullying or harassment.
Alcohol/Drugs/Tobacco: Students are not allowed to bring cigarettes or other tobacco products, alcohol, or illegal drugs to school.
Weapons: Students are not allowed to bring guns or other weapons to school or have them in their possession when they are there.
Gangs: Students are not allowed to participate in gangs or gang-related activity at school. State law defines a “gang” to mean a group of three or more people, with a leader, that regularly plans and acts together to do illegal things.
- What if a school district does not seem to be following its own policies, or the state rules on student discipline?
Keep in mind that the rules on student discipline have changed significantly over the last several years. School staff have been learning along with the rest of us about what the new rules allow, and what they require. It will take some time for school and district staff to become familiar with the new policies and practices.
Here are some steps you can take if you believe a school is not following its own district’s policy and procedure, or the state rules on student discipline:
- Make sure you have a copy of the current district policy and procedure (call the superintendent’s office to confirm that what you have is current, or request a copy of the current policy and procedure). You can also check to see if the district’s policy matches the current state rules, which are all online in WAC Chapter 392-400, here: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/wac/default.aspx?cite=392-400&full=true.
- Ask the principal for time to review the district’s student discipline policy and procedure with you (consider sharing a copy of what you are looking at, either by email or in paper copy);
- After reviewing the policy and procedure with the principal, ask that they consider revisiting their decision in light of the policy, and that they confirm their decision to you in writing.
If a school principal continues with a decision that you believe is inconsistent with the district policy or procedure, or with state rules, you can follow the process for appeal. If the concern is about the appeal process, you can ask the superintendent to review the issue, and if that does not resolve it, ask for review by the school board.
If your concern involves discipline of a student who is eligible for special education services, you can reach out to your child’s IEP team, or district special education staff, or consider options for formal dispute resolution, including a special education citizen’s complaint to our state education agency, OSPI (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction).
If your concern involves discrimination in student discipline, you can reach out to your district’s civil rights compliance coordinator, or you can pursue a complaint through a district’s nondiscrimination policy and procedure, with the option to appeal to OSPI if it is not resolved at the district level. You can also consider options for a discrimination complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).
There is not a similar state-level or federal-level administrative complaint process for student discipline complaints.
OSPI does have a Student Discipline Program that has been providing training, guidance and support to help schools meet the new requirements in the state discipline rules. You can try contacting them to see if they can help in your district. You can contact them at 360-725-6101 and find information on their webpage, here: https://www.k12.wa.us/student-success/support-programs/student-discipline.
Getting Help for an Individual Student:
If you raise an issue about failure to follow district policy or state rules, but are not able to resolve your concern, and the decision is continuing to affect your child, consider reaching out for help (if you haven’t already).
You can call OEO at 1-866-297-2597, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or connect with us through our online intake: https://services.oeo.wa.gov/oeo.
We can help brainstorm ideas for resolving concerns. We can try to help:
- Find ways to make sure you get notice for any classroom exclusion
- Troubleshoot issues with alternative education services
- Explore possible routes for a student to return to class early.
With a parent’s written permission, we can also reach out to schools and districts to try to understand and help resolve concerns. We are not an enforcement agency, so we do not have authority to tell schools or districts what to do, but we can join you and the school in a dialogue to try to resolve concerns.
You may also choose to seek out legal advice. An attorney can help you assess your different options, both formal and informal.
The Northwest Justice Project provides legal assistance to eligible low-income families and individuals needing help with civil (non-criminal) legal problems in Washington State. If you live outside of King County, you can call their CLEAR Hotline at 1-888-201-1014 weekdays between 9:15 am and 12:15 pm. In King County call 2-1-1, weekdays 8:00 am - 6:00 pm and they will identify and refer you to the appropriate legal aid provider. You can also visit their website to learn about submitting an online intake: https://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.
TeamChild provides legal services for youth in Yakima, King, Spokane and Pierce Counties who are at high risk for juvenile court involvement. You can find contact information for TeamChild offices and more information about their services at www.teamchild.org.
Information about student discipline is important. School districts must provide interpretation and translation when necessary in order to make sure all families can understand discipline notices and school rules.
Find more information about accessing interpretation and translation on our Language Access page, here: https://oeo.wa.gov/en/education-issues/language-access.