Vancouver Public Schools is taking steps to examine and refine its disciplinary policies and practices after a 2018-19 investigation by the Washington state attorney general’s office identified disproportionate outcomes. The investigation, for which the district appears to have been randomly selected based on the attorney general’s office review of statewide discipline data, included a review of 2014-15 data compiled by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The attorney general’s office found that VPS, like a number of other districts, suspended or expelled students at a rate higher than the state average. The review also concluded that the district’s practices disproportionately affect black/African-American, Native American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students, as well as students with disabilities.
No complaint was submitted in regard to VPS’ disciplinary policies and practices. Other state offices of attorneys general have conducted similar inquiries of public school districts and reached similar resolutions.
“We have focused on promoting safe and supportive learning environments as a major component of our district’s strategic plan since it was adopted in 2008,” said Superintendent Steve Webb. He affirmed that VPS will sustain its efforts to improve. “We appreciate the state attorney general and his staff for highlighting these areas,” he said. “Like many districts, Vancouver is working to improve student discipline and exclusionary practices to be more equitable.”
The district provides a framework to address the academic and behavioral support needs of each student. Initiatives already underway include:
- Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports
- Restorative practices and re-engagement plans
- Response to Intervention (a process used by educators to help students who are struggling with a skill or lesson)
- Social and emotional learning
- Culturally aware practices
- Family engagement
- Community partnerships, including mental health service providers
Per the terms of a resolution agreement with the attorney general’s office, VPS additionally has retained the services of Daniel Losen and the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Losen is a nationally recognized expert in the specialized area of assisting school districts to improve discipline policies and practices based on research. Losen will conduct an extensive review of the district’s records to ensure that disciplinary, suspension and due process practices are effectively implemented in a nondiscriminatory manner, and he will monitor progress for three school years.
The district already has demonstrated these positive outcomes:
- A reduction of more than 40% in the exclusion rate for black/African-American students from 2013 to 2017
- A reduction of 26% in the exclusion rate for students with disabilities
- An overall decrease in the rate of exclusions from 7.1% in 2013 to 5.4% in 2017, supported by a five-year federal grant to implement restorative practices
- VPS composition index for exclusionary discipline is well below the state index for both black/African-American and students with a disability (see Appendix A)
“We will address, as a system, the complicated factors involved in fairly imposing student corrective action without unintended discriminatory outcomes,” said Webb. “We are committed to refining our policies and practices to be appropriate and equitable. Our students, their families, our staff and our community deserve it.”