Local: Education

D.C. to implement new citywide discipline rules

Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

New citywide standards for student discipline are slated to hit District schools this winter, with an emphasis on ensuring students with disabilities aren't improperly restrained or isolated by their teachers.

The rules would be comprehensive, creating a citywide student conduct policy, ensuring parental notification when students are suspended or expelled, and beefing up the reporting of disciplinary action, especially when violence or crime triggered it.

The marquee item, however, is creating parameters for when physical restraint can be used in discipline situations, and when a student can be isolated from his peers. Documents from the Office of the State Superintendent of Education specify that OSSE is aiming for "prevention of discrimination against students with disabilities, appropriate use of seclusion and restraint in emergency incidents and bullying prevention initiatives."

OSSE's regulations already prohibit seclusion unless there's a threat to other students' safety and require that separated students be monitored. The new rules would create an "absolute ban" on several kinds of methods for restraining students and establish seclusion of students as a "temporary intervention ... for emergency situations only."

The policy updates were proposed a few years ago, but are set to become official in November and implemented in the schools in the following months.

The agency is holding public hearings on the proposed discipline rules at their Union Station offices Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Spokesman Brandon Frazier said the new standards come from efforts to meet "best practices" set by the U.S. Department of Education.

Discipline in the District has been under a microscope for a variety of reasons. Rock Creek Academy in Northwest closed last year after OSSE discovered that special-education students were put in five-foot-by-five-foot "isolation rooms," sometimes with the lights off, when they misbehaved. Although Rock Creek is a private school, the District was responsible for special-needs students it sent there when the public schools couldn't adequately serve them.

More broadly, charter schools came under fire from the D.C. Council in February when leaders revealed that students younger than 8 years old were suspended 434 times from charters last year, a 78 percent increase in suspensions of preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students in just two years. The charter school board has since taken steps to better monitor the schools' discipline decisions.

The new regulations are expected to be finalized and published in November. By February, schools will have to distribute updated codes of conduct to parents and students.

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