Federal Way teachers face training for student discipline

Federal Way teachers will undergo mandatory "cultural competency" training to curb inequities in student discipline.

According to the statistics compiled by the district and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), a stark disproportionality exists in the district when it comes to discipline for male students and African-American students.

At all levels, from elementary to high school, males make up anywhere between 69 percent to 85 percent of all disciplinary referrals. Those referrals can include being sent to the office, in-school suspension, out-of-school suspension or outright expulsion.

The Federal Way School Board received an executive summary on the district's "Ends" 3, which is related to student conduct and responsibility, during the board's Nov. 27 meeting.

On hand to give the report were Deputy Superintendent Mark Davidson and Erin Jones, executive director for equity and achievement.

Davidson said the work that's been done on the issue of student discipline and how it relates across racial and gender lines is important for the district in moving forward.

Looking at this data is forcing the district to confront some of its most persistent and pervasive problems related to discipline and equity, Davidson said.

"(We've) talked about the days of school missed that are affected by short-term suspensions," Davidson said. "I will reiterate that I believe a much more important problem is the disengagement, because it's not even measurable. It's one of those things you know is out there, you can see it when you talk to students in this category, you can see what happens to kids with records and where it goes and where it leads. And you can look at dropout rates and how it ties to these kinds of things."

African-American students make up 11.5 percent of the total student population. At most levels, those students make up approximately one-third of discipline referrals, which is something that needs to be corrected, Jones said. She hopes to accomplish this through a training program on "cultural competency," she said.

"(The training) is something that our educators are clamoring for. The reality is, when we look at discipline numbers, part of the reasons we have such high numbers, I believe, after eight months in our schools, is that a lot of our educators in our schools don't know how to interact positively with African-American males, just to be honest," Jones said. "It's not an issue of not wanting to work with them, it's a cultural gap. What is perceived as being disrespectful or defiant behavior is often a cultural misunderstanding. So one of my goals in the training I do is helping people understand that cultural conflict and helping educators build a bridge back to students, and also helping students build a bridge to educators."

Jones said she recently completed a training with the district's administrators on the subject. She is looking at developing a team of about a dozen people to continue the training into the future. There are also plans for Jones to hold a town hall style meeting on the subject, to help raise awareness in the community outside of the district.

"This has to be a community project. It can't just be teachers in a classroom, or teachers in a building," she said. "It has to be our whole community."

Superintendent Rob Neu confirmed that the training will be mandatory for teachers in Federal Way Public Schools.

School board member Ed Barney related a story he had recently heard at an annual conference regarding an incident of student misconduct.

"One story that an assistant principal told (was) that the kid came to school, pulled out a cigarette lighter and the kid got kicked out of the classroom because those things aren't allowed," Barney said. "Once they found out what the problem was… basically the only thing he had control of that day was that lighter. His mother had disappeared in the night, she just packed up and left. They had no idea what was involved in the kid's life, and the only thing he had control of was that cigarette lighter, and that got him expelled. The vice principal stepped in, he said, 'Let's talk about it.' (The kid) got an in-school suspension instead, so he was able to stay connected to the community, able to stay involved. He was able to do a heck of a lot better than if they had just kicked him out of school."

Board president Tony Moore said it is worthwhile for the district to confront these uncomfortable facts, and said he hopes FWPS can solve the problem locally, even though it is also a national problem.

"I know a lot of places, they don't like to air that kind of laundry. We ripped the data apart, and it didn't make you feel good, this wasn't a feel good kind of thing," he said. "I really appreciate getting honest about knowing where we are, knowing the benchmark, and then hearing strategies on how we're going to solve a national problem. This is not unique to Federal Way..(but) we've got an honest benchmark and a strategy to close the gap that the nation has found it impossible to find any movement on."


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