Board approves background checks for new students

The Federal Way Public Schools board of education approved a measure last Tuesday that bolsters the process for requesting background information of students entering the district.

The proposal, which passed as an addition to existing district enrollment policies, will require parents or students wishing to enroll in a Federal Way school to provide any history of placement in a special education program, any history of violent behavior, any unpaid fines from another school and any health conditions.

If the district doesn’t receive records, the student’s enrollment might be delayed.

The new policy went into effect immediately.

The Federal Way Educators Association supports the policy change because it will provide a greater level of safety for teachers, students and staff, said Mike Lewis, who is the association president.

“We’re very much in favor of this because we deal on a day-to-day basis with students who can be disruptive or not behaving in a way that is educationally sound,” he said.

The policy addition will formalize the process for Federal Way Public Schools personnel to request student information. Public schools personnel have requested student information in the past, but the district never had a written procedure to follow.

State law currently allows districts to request records from other Washington schools, though Federal Way Public Schools was sometimes lax about getting the records, Lewis said.

“Some of that has already been there, but we maybe haven’t enforced it to the degree it should be. In the past ... (the district) would call and the records would get here when they get here,” he said.

The district drafted the policy change and presented it to the school board after a 15-year-old developmentally disabled student attacked special education teacher Jennifer Panico-DiGiorgio at Federal Way High School on Dec. 17.

The boy was arrested and charged with second-degree assault after he allegedly grabbed Panico-DiGiorgio and slammed her head into a desk, pinned her with his knee and punched her several times after she tried to get him to do some classwork.

DiGiorgio was taken to St. Francis Hospital in Federal Way and was later transferred to Harborview Medical Center for treatment of head injuries. She has not returned to work.

The teen was found incompetent to stand trial in King County Juvenile Court and has been transferred back to Kern County, Calif., where he lived before coming to Washington as part of a program for juvenile offenders.

According to court papers, the teen had a history of violence and removal from schools, including an instance in which he attacked a teacher. A Kern County judge found the boy to be “a mentally retarded person who is a danger to himself and others” and a sex offender.

Federal Way district officials said they only received reports that he had once slapped a teacher prior to enrolling the teen-ager at Federal Way High School, though since the attack, they have taken steps to improve safety.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is expected to conduct an audit of the district’s admissions policies and a private company is in the process of completing an investigation into the attack.

Meanwhile, district personnel introduced the addition to the enrollment policy.

While district personnel have to be careful about how they implement the policy — it’s against the law to prevent a child from attending school for any reason — staff are confident the policy will help the district.

“The quicker you get the information, the quicker you can make judgment calls and make arrangements for students,” Lewis said. “If they’re bringing baggage with them and if we’re aware of that ahead of time, we can take steps to make sure that incidents like the last one don’t happen again.”

He said neither the district nor the educators association wants to tread on the rights of students — they just want all students to be safe.

“Anything that will keep the students safe and the teachers safe and staff safe, anything that helps in any way at all is OK with us,” he said.

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