Washougal School District reviews student conduct policy

District seeing reductions in discipline incidents

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Washougal School District staff members want to help the district become one of the best in Washington. They know that for that to happen, every student must succeed, and that in order for a student to succeed, he or she must be given every opportunity to do so.

In that regard, the district is starting to assess the impact of the new policies and procedures regarding student conduct and discipline it implemented last October in order to align with new Washington State School Directors Association and Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction guidelines.

“The procedures that are happening in the buildings are based on policies to make sure we have students in classrooms as much as possible, but also support teachers and the learning environment, because when we do have students misbehaving, that’s a distraction from the learning environment,” said assistant superintendent Renae Burson. “We want to make sure we’re still supporting students and teachers and not allowing misbehavior, but preventing it from recurring.”

According to the district’s Executive Responsibilities 16 document, “the Superintendent shall establish and adopt administrative procedure for student behavior and discipline that maintains a learning environment that is safe, conducive to effective learning, and that provides support and incentive to assist students in developing mature and effective behavior skills.”

The district is aiming to decrease the number of students that have multiple, reoccurring disciplinary incidents such as suspensions; and the disproportionality of incidents in regard to student mix.

Topics the district are focusing on include: student rights and responsibilities, student attendance, harassment and bullying, nondiscrimination, interviews and interrogations of students on school premises, student privacy, gang activity, threats of violence, weapons regulation, and sexual harassment.

According to figures presented by Burson to the district’s board of directors at their March 12 meeting at the Washougal School District office, the number of reported incidents in the district has decreased this school year.

With 64 percent of the 2018-19 school year completed, the number of students with five or more incidents has dropped from five last year to one; four incidents from five to one; three incidents from 16 to three; two incidents from 38 to 14; and one incident from 134 to 66.

The share of students with no reported incidents has increased from 95.6 percent to 97.6 percent.

“I think one of the key things is communicating expectations early,” Burson said. “One of the things that’s been helpful is making sure students know how we expect them to behave and putting those preventative measures (in place).”

Burson noted how Gause Elementary School counselor Jerolyn Friesen has created instructional videos which are shown to students several times per school year.

“One might be on, ‘How do we walk down the hallway with zero voice?’ They watch the video, they understand what the expectation is, and they practice that day,” Burson said. “They practice those expectations, then they understand. There’s signage everywhere of what the expectations are, the rules that are expected to be followed.”

However, Burson noted disproportionalities in the incident reports of four categories — male students, students of color, students who take free and reduced-price lunch and special education students.

“Those are areas where we’re really focused and making sure that we’re putting into place the evidence-based practices that will help lower that disproportionality,” Burson said. “We’re looking at things like restorative practices, taking the time to have those teaching moments so that it’s not just, ‘Yes, you misbehaved and now we’re suspending you and we don’t come back and revisit anything.’ We’re making sure instead of just suspending and having a consequence that there’s actually a chance to learn from that (action) and make it right.”

According to the document, the superintendent will “identify students at risk and provide opportunities to help them develop socially appropriate behavior skills.”

To that end, the district is valuing its partnerships with several local youth-focused organizations such as Washougal Unite! Coalition, which has assigned student support specialists to the middle and high schools.

“We’re on the right track,” Burson said. “Right now what we’re looking at our data and seeing what’s effective, and we want to continually improve. One of the things we’ve been doing this year is taking time to share our best practices at each school site, so when our principals come together they can look at what’s been effective and then learn from each other. That’s important.”

The district is relying on different strategies and areas of expertise to help it in its mission.

Burson talked about how Jemtegaard Middle School principal David Cooke’s “Support at the Door” program has worked well.

Gause Elementary has benefitted from the presence of Friesen, who has extensively studied the Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports system. Gause staff members give out ‘Mustang Moments’ currency to students who are seen exhibiting positive behaviors. The students can then redeem the awards for experiences such as playing basketball with the principal or having lunch with a teacher or counselor.

“We are focusing on giving kids a clear expectation in every setting to set them up for success,” Friesen said. “We want to hold them accountable (for their actions) based on what’s reasonable and appropriate for their age. We also want to acknowledge students that do the right thing. We know that behavior changes through positive interactions.”

Washougal High School associate principal Sheree Clark is a big advocate of restorative practices.

“We’re trying to approach decisions in a restorative way,” Clark said. “There’s a misconception about restorative practices; people think, ‘Well, it’s just a slap on the hand, and the kids get away with things.’ But really the philosophical belief (behind restorative practices) is that students need to be held accountable for their behaviors in ways that make sense.

“The restorative approach allows us to show the students the impact of their behavior on other people. They have to come face to face with the person (they wronged), and they have to say why (the negative event) happened and what they’ll do to make things better. That’s already making an impact on our discipline. We’re seeing a lot less of those types of engagement, seeing better relationships, and the culture is improving.”

At the March 12 board meeting, superintendent Mary Templeton lauded the district’s efforts.

“We’re putting a lot of energy and effort and focus into making sure students are supported, which is imperative,” she said. “The entire education community in Washington is on a journey to figure this out. We’re taking a proactive approach to making sure students have access (to everything they need). It’s not easy work, and I appreciate Renae’s leadership on that.”