The Legislature is back in session and parents (and all who care about their community’s schools) should pay attention to how some powerful state lawmakers are pushing to roll back local control.
These are a few bills of concern:
• Senate Bill 5237, which would give the state Superintendent of Public Instruction a swath of new powers to investigate and take control over local school districts based on a complaint from anyone about supposed noncompliance with a broad range of state laws, including student discipline and “curriculum requirements, including comprehensive sexual health education.” School board directors must begin taking an oath to not just the federal and state constitutions, but to all state laws (lest they show any independence in doing what they think is best, rather than what Olympia dictates). School superintendents and elected school board directors could face strict punishments and easier removal from office based on OSPI’s findings. The state could also withhold 20% of the school district’s funding.
• Senate Bill 5441, requiring new local, regional and state school bureaucracies to promote and integrate into classrooms “diverse, equitable and inclusive” curricula, as defined by 10 different identity groups (including LGBTQIA2S+, an acronym so unwieldy that the “Q” stands for either Questioning or Queer, which is a pretty big difference.)
• Senate Bill 5462, another diversity-in-curriculum mandate that this time lists 13 distinct identity groups (but apparently not as many categories of sexuality and gender, as it only refers to “LGBTQ people.”) This bill explicitly deletes the authority of school boards to “establish final curriculum standards,” instead saying state law and the state superintendent of public instruction will have that power. Students in every grade level would be required to learn “the histories, contributions and perspectives of LGBTQ people.”
• Senate Bill 5257 is a harmless-sounding bill requiring “sufficient daily recess” but could have unintended consequences by ignoring regional differences (playing in the rain versus two feet of snow, for instance). It would also forbid teachers from taking away recess as punishment. Oh, and teachers couldn’t assign laps or push-ups as a consequence, either.
The tragic irony is that while lawmakers are busybodying their way into educational details that could be, should be and always have been handled at the local level, there are much bigger foundational problems that only statewide leadership can fix.
I hear from teachers across our region that feel they have lost the ability to enforce discipline. Kids are throwing chairs, hitting other students and injuring staff.
For many reasons, administrators and educators can’t keep control of a growing swath of ill-behaved students.
One rebellious child can derail an entire classroom. With few remaining options to make that child behave, the teacher and every other student leave the classroom until the tantrum is over. Or they just carry on with class while the student melts down.
An even bigger problem, when it comes to student well-being, is that some students aren’t making it into school at all.
During the pandemic, schools stopped enforcing mandatory attendance. I suppose that made sense when there was a risk that students might catch COVID-19 at school and bring it home to at-risk family members. But unfortunately, once you drop your standards, it’s hard to bring them back up again.
That’s what’s happened with school attendance. Some students are staying away for days or weeks at a time, and schools are hard-pressed to bring them back.
State law requires all children between ages 8 and 18 to attend school regularly (public, private or homeschool).
Enforcement of this law has waned and last year the Legislature passed a bill allowing absences for “mental health” reasons. I’m sure the bill was well-intentioned, but in many cases it has become interpreted as “if a kid doesn’t feel like going to school, no one will make them.”
You can’t teach kids who won’t come to school. Instead of the growth that comes from doing hard things, we’re indulging kids. This makes it harder for them to develop into strong adults.
The inability of schools to discipline students or even make sure they come to school is terrible and these problems require a whole different attitude in Olympia. Policymakers need to roll authority and prerogative back to local school boards and families to support basic standards of discipline and respect.
Instead, lawmakers want to micromanage every aspect of what kids learn while finding ways to punish school board directors who show any kind of spine in standing up for local control.
With nearly all methods of discipline already off the table for teachers, lawmakers want to ban even more of them.
So what can you do?
First, you can sign up to testify on these bills. Visit www.leg.wa.gov to comment on legislation or call 1-800-562-6000.
Next, you can reach out to your local legislators. Most of them in our area are already standing up for local educational control, but it’s important that they hear from you.
Get involved in your local school district. Attend school board meetings. Listen and learn, then thoughtfully engage. Show respect for your local elected school board members and the administrators in your district, but also ask questions and share your perspective.
Finally and most importantly, uphold standards in your own household and expect your children to be civil members of society.
Public education was founded on the idea and promise of local control. Some legislators in Olympia want to take that away. We can’t let them.
Are you a teacher who has experienced these issues? Reach out confidentially to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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