WV ed department proposing making out-of-school suspensions count against attendance rate

The West Virginia Department of Education has proposed making out-of-school suspensions, other than those resulting from the highest level of student offenses, count against public schools’ attendance rates.

This and other proposed changes to state Board of Education Policy 4110 come as the department has proposed labeling schools partly based on each school’s percentage of students with no out-of-school suspensions. That’s part of the department’s proposed new school accountability system in its plan to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.

The public comment period for the Policy 4110 changes ends 4 p.m. Monday, while the public comment period for the ESSA plan ends Aug. 30. You can read and comment on the proposed Policy 4110 changes at wvde.state.wv.us/policies, and you can read and comment on the proposed ESSA plan at wvde.state.wv.us/essa.

“While out-of-school suspension is still an option within consequences outlined in the policy, the State is a promoting the use of alternative consequences in an effort to maximize student access to instruction,” the ESSA plan states. “Therefore, the measure of Behavior that will be included in the Statewide Accountability System is the percentage of students in each school that received zero out-of-school suspensions within a school year; an effort to incentivize LEAs [local education agencies] and schools to develop alternative approaches to discipline that keep students engaged in instruction.”

If the state school board passes the proposed out-of-school suspension change to Policy 4110, the only out-of-school suspensions that won’t count against a school’s attendance rate will be those resulting from Level 4: Safe Schools Act Behaviors.

These include committing battery against school employees and acts that would be considered felonies if adults did them and, on school property or at school functions, possessing, selling or using illegal substances, including drugs and alcohol, and weapons, including guns and “legitimate tools” including “pens, pencils, compasses, or combs, with the intent to harm another.”

Among the absences not counted against attendance rates in the existing version of the policy are those for all “students not in attendance due to disciplinary measures;” the policy changes would add “resulting from a Level 4: Safe Schools Act Behaviors violation” after that phrase.

Even with the proposed changes, absences that would continue to not count against attendance rates include “school/county directed placements outside the traditional classroom environment including but not limited to homebound placement and in-school suspension,” “failure of the bus to run/hazardous conditions” and “school approved curricular/co-curricular activities.” The policy changes would specify “extracurricular activities” are included in the latter.

State school board Policy 4373, which contains the different levels of student behaviors and various regulations, is also out on public comment until 4 p.m. Monday, at wvde.state.wv.us/policies.

The department, among other proposed changes to Policy 4373, is proposing adding language saying that when school employees “personally witness” the rape of a child or “receive credible information” from a witness about the rape, they “must notify the West Virginia State Police and the local law enforcement entity within 24 hours.” Individuals required to make such reports are called “mandatory reporters.”

“Alternatively, Mandatory Reporters may notify the school’s principal or assistant principal when receiving credible information or observing the acts described above,” proposed added language to the policy states. “If a principal or assistant principal receives such information, he or she must notify the West Virginia State Police and local law enforcement within 24 hours of receiving such information.”

When asked why the department isn’t proposing to require rape to be reported immediately or sooner than 24 hours, department Communications Director Kristin Anderson wrote in an email Friday that, “Language in the proposed version of Policy 4373 mirrors the language used within the reporting statute, 49-2-803.”

The version of 49-2-803 available online, which says it’s current through last year’s legislative session but not this year’s, does contain the word “immediately” in addition to the within-24-hours requirement.

“Any school teacher or other school personnel who receives a disclosure from a witness,” the statute says, “which a reasonable prudent person would deem credible, or personally observes any sexual contact, sexual intercourse or sexual intrusion, as those terms are defined in article eight-b, chapter sixty-one, of a child on school premises or on school buses or on transportation used in furtherance of a school purpose shall immediately, but not more than 24 hours, report the circumstances or cause a report to be made.”

The law says teachers or other school personnel can alternatively report “immediately, but not more than 24 hours, to the principal, assistant principal or similar person in charge,” and then that “principal, assistant principal or similar person in charge ... shall be responsible for immediately, but not more than 24 hours, reporting such conduct to law enforcement.”

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1254, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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