Law aims to close the educational opportunity and discipline gaps

In 2016, the legislature passed 4SHB 1541, to address student discipline and the educational opportunity gap. The bill dramatically changed laws regarding discipline, cultural competency training, ELL certification, the use of LAP funds, and other areas.  A summary of significant changes you may be interested in are in the chart following this introduction.

The requirements require districts to address the length of suspensions, reengagement plans, and how to provide alternative educational settings for students while suspended. 

You may have already experienced some changes in your school or classroom as a result of this bill. More changes are coming. 

OSPI will create new rules to implement the law and is taking longer than the legislature intended.  The Washington State School Directors will create a new model policy on discipline.  The Center for Improvement of Student Learning will develop an Integrated Student Support Protocol.  All these will lead to new implementing policies and procedures by districts to ensure they are in compliance.

School districts have a responsibility to inform school personnel about changes they make to policies that impact their work. But we know that districts don’t always do a good job of distributing those policies and procedures – and often they are not perfectly clear.  Your local association can play an important role in helping you to get clear information from your district, and employees are strongly encouraged to work within their locals to ensure educator voice is included in the adopted policies.

If staff are concerned that policies aren’t clear, they should bring that to the attention of their supervisor. If those concerns aren’t addressed, they can connect with their local building or site representative for assistance, consistent with local union practices.

If employees have reason to believe that a school or their district is not complying with the law, school district policies and procedures, or the collective bargaining agreement, we encourage them to notify their supervisor and building representative or other local union leader as appropriate.    

Your unions – both your local and the WEA – are here to provide you with the support you need as changes are made that impact your working conditions.


Educational Opportunity Gap Bill Elements

4SHB 1541

Discipline Policies and Procedures

  • Tasks WSSDA with creating model discipline policies and procedures by 12/1/2016.
  • Requires districts to adopt discipline policies and procedures by the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.
  • Mandates districts to annually disseminate discipline policies and procedures, monitor impact of them using disaggregated data, and periodically review and update them.

Discipline Training

  • Directs OSPI to develop training program to support implementation of discipline policies and procedures.
  • Strongly encourages districts to provide trainings within existing funds.

Length of Suspension or Expulsion

  • Changes the length of a long-term suspension or expulsion to "an academic term," as defined by the school board.

Reengagement Plans

  • States that school districts "must" convene a reengagement meeting.
  • Mandates that families have access to, provide meaningful input on, and, have the opportunity to participate in a culturally sensitive and responsive reengagement plan.

Discretionary Discipline

  • Prohibits districts from imposing long term suspension or expulsion as a form of discretionary discipline.
  • Defines discretionary discipline as action taken for violation of student conduct rules but excludes certain acts from this definition (i.e. two or more violations in a three-year period for certain offenses and crimes that must be reported to schools).
  • Removes the requirement that a principal consider long-term suspension or expulsion for two or more violations within a 3-year period for possession of a telecommunication device and dress code.

Alternative Educational Settings

  • Prohibits districts from suspending the provision of educational services as a disciplinary action.
  • Requires an equitable alternative setting to be comparable and appropriate to the regular education services a student would have received without exclusion.

Cultural Competency Training Plan

  • Tasks WSSDA with developing cultural competence training for school board directors and superintendents.   
  • Tasks OSPI with developing cultural competence training for administrators and school staff.   
  • Specifies that the training must include foundational elements (focusing on multicultural education, principles of English language acquisition, best practices for tribal history, and culture curriculum) and align with the PESB standards for cultural competence. 

Cultural Competency Professional Development

  • Requires OSPI to add cultural competence to the professional development program. 
  • Encourages ESDs and school districts to use the cultural competence professional development and training.
  • Strongly encourages action districts, districts with schools receiving the federal School Improvement Grant, and priority districts to use the cultural competence professional development and training.

ELL Endorsement

  • Adds a requirement that beginning the 2019-20 school year, teachers participating in the Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program must hold an endorsement in bilingual education, English language learner, or both.   

ELL Tech Assistance/Research

  • Requires OSPI to provide school districts with technical assistance and support in selecting research-based program models, instructional materials, and professional development subject to funds appropriated.
  • Requires that information include research on the differences between conversational, academic, and subject-specific language proficiency.

Integrated Student Supports and Family Engagement

  • Requires the Center for Improvement of Student Learning (CISL) to develop the Protocol based on a framework that includes: (1) needs assessments for at-risk students to identify needed academic and nonacademic supports, (2) integration and coordination of academic and nonacademic support providers, (3) community partnerships, and (4) data collection.
  • Tasks OSPI with creating a work group to determine how to best implement the framework of the Protocol and to submit reports to the Legislature on 10/1/2016 and 10/1/2017 with recommendations.
  • Removes the requirement that expenditure of LAP funds be consistent with RCW 28A.655.235, which requires reading and literacy improvement strategies for certain students.
  • Allows LAP funds to support the Protocol.

Effects of Student Discipline

  • Requires districts to monitor the impact of school discipline policies and procedures with data disaggregated by racial, ethnic, and other subgroups. Districts were previously required to report data to OSPI for this purpose.  Now this monitoring is also required at the district level.