Mercer Island. But money alone is no
guarantee that all children will get an
opportunity to receive a meaningful education. Access to education must also
be measured by who is permitted to attend and who is excluded from school.
During the 2013 Washington State
Legislative session, community members, educators, families, and students
testified in Olympia about the effects of
exclusionary school discipline. In the
past, a student could be excluded from
school indefinitely — with no clear path
for how to return to school. The Legislature heeded their stories, substantiated
by data, and passed historic changes
which still allow discretion for educators to correct student misconduct, keep
schools safe, and are now intended to
help regain excluded students.
The new law requires that school
districts host a re-engagement meeting
to create a plan for addressing the stu-
dent’s individual needs and strengths,
the causes that led to the student’s mis-
behavior, and steps to help the student
remedy the situation.
6 Educators alone
should not have to shoulder crafting
this plan. With the new laws in place,
lawyers can play the role of collaborator
or facilitator with educators and other
community partners by helping an ex-
cluded student obtain a re-engagement
plan. Schools are better served when
community stakeholders, including
caring lawyers, collaborate at the meet-
ing table to talk about how to get the
student’s needs met, redress the behav-
ior, and support a speedy plan to return
the student to school.
Lawyers can bring information
sheets about school re-engagement
meetings to community boards they
serve on, share information with their
children’s schools, or consider taking a
pro bono case to help an excluded student return to school.
7 Small acts like
these will disrupt the pipeline. A chapter in the story about equity in education will certainly include the racial disparities found in exclusionary school
discipline. Let that chapter be filled
with stories of lawyers building a loud,
supportive momentum to help students
return to school where they belong. NWL
school discipline and
other education matters.
McGrath serves on the King
County Bar Association Board of
Trustees and is a past-president
of the Latina/o Bar Association of
Washington. Contact her at nicole.
article was edited by Anne Lee
and Caroline Tillier of TeamChild
and is dedicated to the Snohomish
County education administrators,
teachers, behavior specialists,
special education team members,
and school staff who often collabo-
rate to help TeamChild students of
color return to school.
1. See “Reclaiming Students: the educational
and economic costs of exclusionary discipline in Washington State,” by Washington
Appleseed and TeamChild, November 2012.
2. Id. at 39–44. See also Discipline Data report presented at Discipline Task Force
Meeting on Sept. 8, 2014, presented by Tim
Stensager, Director of Data Governance,
WA OSPI at 14–15, 24–25.
3. 2014 Annual Report: Recommendations
from the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee (
EO-GOAC), which endorses reducing the length
of time students of color are excluded from
school and provide student support for reengagement plans. The report can be found at
http://k12.wa.us/achievementgap. See also
Discipline Disparities Series: Acknowledging Race — “You Can’t Fix What You Don’t
Look At: Acknowledging Race in Addressing
Racial Discipline Disparities,” by Prudence
Carter, Russell Skiba, Mariella Arredondo,
and Mica Pollock, December 2014.
4. In the case of McCleary v. State of Washington, 173 Wash.2nd 477 (2012), the McCleary
court held that the Washington State Constitution education clause, Article IX, Section
1, carries a judicially enforceable obligation
for the State to ensure ample provision of an
education for all children.
5. See ESSB 5496 enacting new school discipline laws during the 2013 Washington
6. See RCW 28A.600.022, Suspended or expelled students–Reengagement plan.
7. Information sheets about school reengagement meetings can be found at www.
Lawyers can also play a more traditional
role by representing students at school