Avoiding Disciplinary Placement in the Washington State High School System

Parents have great hope for their high school student children and the opportunities in front of them. Whether you envision them as an attorney, doctor, engineer, or business owner, each begins with a fulfilling high school experience and subsequent diploma. One of the elements of the transition into young adulthood is making mistakes and overcoming them. Honest, hard-working kids get caught in bad situations, but infractions that once might have merited a phone call home from school are increasingly common grounds for suspension and expulsion in institutions with zero-tolerance disciplinary policies.

Occasionally, schools unfairly blame students for misconduct they didn't commit, categorizing your child alongside perennial offenders. Mischaracterizations like this leave them suffering unjust penalties and consequences that will affect them for the rest of their lives.

You don't want a misunderstanding or miscommunication to threaten your child's future academic career or future prospects, but it happens in Washington school districts. Considering the immense repercussions, it's imperative that you know how school districts handle misconduct and how it can negatively affect your child.

Avoiding Alternative Education Placement in Washington

When your child is accused of misbehaving at their Washington high school, reprimands can be as minimal as ungraded classwork or serious as expulsion from school. Sanctions should be proportionate to the severity of the alleged misconduct, but that isn't always the case. School boards have an obligation to protect the institution's reputation, and your child will be caught in the middle.

One option Washington school districts have for students with recurring infractions is to send them to an alternative education program (AEP). While this is a seemingly modest solution to help misbehaved students, the problem with that avenue is that Washington AEPs can brand your child a delinquent, opening up the door to unjust punishments.

AEPs do help as a stepping stone toward remediation for some students, but many react poorly, causing students to acquire unhealthy habits. Moreover, individual Washington AEPs may have their own problems, including an outdated curriculum, substandard instruction, and a lack of quality support services.

If your child faces a Washington high school disciplinary proceeding, the risk of them being relegated to an AEP is real. To help you navigate the Washington high school disciplinary system and keep your child out of a remedial and punitive placement, call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm. They have built their premier experience on successfully defending high school students in Washington and across the country.

Student Codes of Conduct for School Discipline in Washington

Washington high schools don't discipline as they see fit. Each school must create a code of conduct to govern student behavior at the direction of the Washington State Board of Education (SBE), following the state legislature's guidelines.

The student code of conduct at your child's school is your first line of defense against unjust school discipline. Your student defense advisor will obtain and review it to ensure that your school adheres to its own parameters and doesn't impose excessive sanctions. The code of conduct will detail prohibited behavior for students and the corresponding consequences. Although each school and district may differ in its code of conduct, some common prohibited behaviors according to Washington's Statutory Authority of the SBE include:

  • Bullying/cyberbullying
  • Computer misuse
  • Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use
  • Student or teacher assault
  • Theft
  • Vandalism
  • Weapons at school

In addition to prohibited behaviors, the code of conduct will list the sanctions for students who commit these behaviors. Your student defense advisor can use the code of conduct to ensure that your child's school administration doesn't impose sanctions beyond their reach. Typically, consequences include:

  • Loss of privileges: Students lose school privileges or are removed from participation in extracurricular activities.
  • Behavioral counseling: The establishment of a line of communication between the student, their parents or guardians, and a school administration to discuss a remediation course of action.
  • Detention: Students must remain after school, show up before school, or on a Saturday to complete their schoolwork.
  • Exclusion: Some Washington school districts allow instructors to exclude a student from their classroom for misbehavior, and the student is reassigned to another teacher.
  • Community service: Students must complete a set number of service work hours either in the school or community.
  • In-school suspension (ISS): Students are removed from their regular classrooms and placed in an ISS classroom to complete assignments for up to five days.
  • Out-of-school suspension (OSS): Students are barred from attending school for no more than ten days.
  • Removal to an interim alternative education setting (IAES): Students are temporarily assigned to an alternative education setting, usually lasting no longer than 45 days.
  • Expulsion: Students are banned from attending their regular school for a certain period of time. Depending on the student's age and the school district, expelled students are required to attend an AEP.

Emergency Removals in Washington Schools

Schools are also allowed to conduct emergency removals of students in certain cases. According to the Washington State Governor's Office of the Education Ombudsman (OEO), an "emergency expulsion" is allowed only if a district has a "good reason" a student poses an "immediate and continuing danger" to themselves, other students, or staff, or of "material and substantial disruption" to the school environment. Emergency expulsions can last no more than ten school days, and upon that threshold, a student will be allowed back into the school, or the student and their family will be given a notice of a formal hearing to determine a transition toward long-term suspension or expulsion.

There are limits on suspensions and expulsions of this nature.

  • No suspensions for truancy. Students may be subject to other punishments, but they cannot be suspended as a punishment for absences and tardiness.
  • No denials of meals. Schools may not impose discipline that would deny or delay a student's access to a school-provided meal.
  • Limits on suspensions for students in kindergarten through 4th grade: Suspensions must be less than ten school days and can only be imposed if a weapon is involved.
  • Limits on suspensions for students in 5th–12th grade. Suspensions for this group must be limited to a total of 15 school days in a semester.

Hearing Process for Suspension and Expulsions in Washington

Section 392-400-450 of the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) states that a student has the right to a hearing to determine formal corrective actions or punishment. At the initial hearing, the principal must provide the student:

  • Notice of the student's violation of the school district's discipline policy adopted under WAC 392-400-110
  • An explanation of the evidence regarding the violation
  • An explanation of the discipline that may be administered
  • An opportunity for the student to testify and provide an explanation regarding the violation.
  • The right to retain legal representation

The superintendent will determine the manner of and preside over the hearing or designate a hearing officer or discipline appeal council to conduct the proceeding. The hearing officer will maintain audio or written recordings of the hearing and make recommendations based on the allegations as to the appropriate measure of discipline.

The student and their advisor may appeal the disciplinary measures to the Washington Board of Education, which will adopt the superintendent's decision in whole or in part.

The Manifestation Determination Review in Washington High Schools

When a school suspends a student for more than ten consecutive school days or 11 total days in the same school year for discipline related to a pattern of misbehavior, the school administration must conduct a Manifestation Determination Review (MDR). The purpose of the MDR is to determine whether a student's disability caused the behavior that led to the suspension or if the behavior resulted from the school's failure to implement the student's Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) or Section 504 Plan.

Typically, an MDR is conducted after the superintendent's determination and must happen within ten school days of the suspension. The MDR team, consisting of school representatives with knowledge of the student, relevant members of the school district's Committee on Special Education, and the student's parents or guardians, will consider all relevant information to understand the possible connection between the sanctioned misconduct and a disability.

If your student child has regular contact with behavioral counselors or other healthcare providers, it will be a good idea if they are present in the meeting. Some disabilities warranting an IEP or Section 504 Plan include:

  • Autism
  • Emotional disabilities
  • Hearing impairment
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Learning disabilities
  • Orthopedic disabilities
  • Speech or language impairment
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Visual impairment

According to the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), students with disabilities can receive a suspension lasting fewer than ten days to the same extent as students who don't have a disability. If the MDR team decides that an incident or pattern of misbehavior was caused by a student's disability or an IEP not being implemented, the student has the right to return to school immediately. The suspension will continue if the MDR team doesn't discover a disability. If the suspension is longer than ten school days, a superintendent may order a student to an IAES.

Challenging the MDR Process

A student, parent, or guardian may pursue an expedited hearing if they refuse the MDR team's findings. The student and their parent or guardian can file a due process complaint with OSPI, and the hearing will be carried out by the Washington State Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH).

The expedited process requires:

  • Convening a resolution session within 15 calendar days of receiving the complaint
  • In-person hearing with student and parent or guardian
  • Decision made by the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) within 45 calendar days after the hearing timeframe begins

Parents may be accompanied and advised by a professional student defense advisor during a due process hearing. Students will remain in an IAES program pending the outcome of the case.

Washington Students' Rights and Program Requirements

Students placed in IAES have rights. According to the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), students placed in a temporary program must:

  1. Continue to receive educational services to participate in the general education curriculum, aligned with SBE standards of mathematics, writing, social studies, reading, and science.
  2. The work or instruction can't be "busy work" or assignments below their academic progress or grade level.
  3. Academic counseling required before entrance into the program must continue throughout IAES.
  4. A student will receive, if necessary, a functional behavioral assessment or behavioral intervention services designed to address recurrent violations.
  5. Academic, personal, and career guidance counseling should be provided, as needed, during the program.

Other Alternative Education Programs for Disciplined Washington Youth

Washington's AEPs provide additional options for students at risk of dropping out to remain engaged in a learning environment that focuses on their particular skills, abilities, and learning styles. OSPI is responsible for:

  • Graduation, Reality, And Dual-Role Skills (GRADS)
  • The Highly Capable Program (HCP)
  • Home-Based Instruction
  • International Education - Student Exchange
  • Online Learning
  • Open Doors Youth Reengagement Program
  • Private school instruction

The Downside of Washington's Exclusionary Discipline

Getting placed in an IAEP, even if it's only for 45 days, can enormously impact a child's future. It can slow down their academic progress, trigger more behavioral problems, and lead to students dropping out and failing to obtain their high school diplomas. Being isolated from their friends and teachers can also affect emotional health, which further impacts academic performance. Although removal from traditional educational programs is meant to be a positive behavior management tool, it can lead to adverse outcomes.

A study conducted by the Center for Court Innovation concluded that schools tend to overuse zero-tolerance approaches to discipline and safety. Washington's OSPI understands this as its own studies conclude there is "no evidence that zero-tolerance reduced violence, improved school climate, increased consistency in schools, or deterred future behavior."

Furthermore, OSPI found that zero-tolerance policies:

  • Increase racial disparities and referrals to the juvenile justice system.
  • Likely have adverse effects on child development.
  • Create unintended consequences for students, families, and communities that result in higher societal costs.

If your child faces placement in an IAEP or other AEP, you must become involved to prevent these counterproductive consequences. Their future depends on it.

Protecting Your Child Experiencing Disciplinary Issues at Their Washington School

Parents have a better chance of preventing their children from being remanded to an IAEP if they stay active and remain engaged during the disciplinary process. When you become aware of an issue, it's critical to:

  1. Contact the school immediately and transcribe as much information as possible.
  2. Call student defense advisor Joseph D. Lento. With his years of experience and dedicated team, once he has the details about your situation, he and his team can begin working with you on a strategy.
  3. Ensure that your child is alright. Speak to them about the incident and ask them to write down what they remember, including interactions with students, teachers, or school administration officials.
  4. Collect any evidence you can, including emails, texts, social media posts, and visual documentation, such as photos if your child has sustained a physical injury during the incident.
  5. Refer to the school's code of conduct to get more information on how the disciplinary process may proceed.
  6. Record your contacts with school officials and anyone else. Note the date, time, and length of conversations.
  7. Keep all written and electronic correspondence relating to the disciplinary process and make copies.

It's critical that you consult with a student defense advisor as early in the process as you can. Once you know this issue can lead to severe disciplinary consequences, including a relocation to an IAEP, you must contact a professional to help you navigate the situation.

How an Experienced Student Defense Advisor Can Help You

When your student is facing a temporary placement in a Washington IAEP, you might think it's not that important of an issue. After all, the aforementioned limitations of suspensions and expulsions mean your student child will return to school eventually. These misunderstandings can lead to the long-term consequences noted above. You don't want your child falling by the wayside and missing out on the college experience or failing to begin their dream career.

As well, you may think that school administration officials, MDR team members, and other school employees aren't civil authorities, so you don't need representation, right? The rules surrounding school discipline in Washington are complex. It takes an experienced student defense advisor to understand the laws and apply them to your child's specific situation to provide them with a better outcome.

If you don't fully grasp the WAC or your particular school's code of conduct, you may struggle to defend your child's rights during an IAEP disciplinary change in the placement decision process. You need experienced help when your child's future is on the line.

How a Student Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento Can Help Your Child Avoid IAEP Placement

Inexperienced attorneys typically begin their defense of a student's academic career by threatening expensive lawsuits. Although a formal suit is a possible course of action to keep you or your student child intact with their studies, litigation is rarely necessary. While many attorneys tout their legal expertise in front of judges and juries, those skills don't often translate into proven tactics to mitigate negative consequences in student disciplinary matters.

Few lawyers have demonstrated themselves to be successful student defense advisors like Joseph D. Lento. He coaches students and their parents and guardians to prepare them for MDR hearings and works to negotiate with school administration officials and an institution's Office of General Counsel (OGC) before an IAEP is recommended as behavior remediation. Even if you can't have an advisor present with you at the meetings, Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm can still be an invaluable asset to you and your child as you navigate this tricky situation.

A professional specializing in student discipline defense can help you make sense of the WAC and its nuances to know what your child's rights are and how to protect them. A legal specialist in this area can also read the code of conduct for your child's school district and ensure that school administrators follow disciplinary procedures correctly. You don't want the school to abuse their authority and send your hard-working child to an IAEP for a minor offense that can be handled by school administration officials in a traditional situation.

Joseph D. Lento and his team at the Lento Law Firm have assisted countless students across Washington and the U.S. in disciplinary matters, allowing them to stand up to their schools and protect their rights effectively. They have the knowledge and experience necessary to support you and your child through a challenging situation with your school board and sanctioning body. Contact the Lento Law Firm by calling 888-535-3686 or visit the online consultation form to protect your child's high school education and future.

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If you, or your student, are facing any kind of disciplinary action, or other negative academic sanction, and are having feelings of uncertainty and anxiety for what the future may hold, contact the Lento Law Firm today, and let us help secure your academic career.

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