Washington State School District Adopts ‘Culturally Responsive’ Student Discipline Policy

By Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.
March 31, 2022 Updated: April 1, 2022

A school district in Washington state has adopted what it calls a “culturally responsive” student discipline policy that takes into account race and ethnic background in doling out punishment.

On March 14, the policy was passed by a vote of 3-2 by the Clover Park School District Board of Directors in Lakewood. 

The board’s two conservative members voted against the policy.

“Until we, the five of us, have discussed all these definitions at work—until we do that, I think we are negligent to send this forward,” Paul Wagemann said at the videotaped meeting.

“Let’s say we both commit the same offense. Then the question should be what are the consequences of that offense and how do we go through that process? And to be fair, if we both did the same thing, we should get the same consequence the way I see it,” Wagemann said.

The aim of the new policy is to promote “fairness, equity, and due process in the administration of discipline,” according to the policy. 

At the same time, it seeks to implement a “culturally responsive” policy that “provides every student the opportunity to achieve personal and academic success.”

Deputy Superintendent Brian Laubach said at the March 14 meeting the policy is to promote student equity “across the ethnicities.”

“So, are you disciplining African-American boys more than [you are] disciplining white boys? So, are you paying attention to all of that in your data?” Laubach said.  

Laubach did not respond to a question from The Epoch Times asking how student discipline can be applied equitably if punishments are decided based on a student’s race, ethnicity, or cultural background.

Superintendent Ron Banner also did not respond to an email seeking comment on the new policy.

Board president Alyssa Anderson Pearson, however, said the district policy does not make race the basis for student discipline.

“Contrary to recent inaccurate news coverage and social media posts, Clover Park School District’s student discipline policy does not make race the determining factor for administering discipline,” Pearson said in a statement.

“It contains no such provision. The recent update of our policy is based on a Washington State School Directors Association model policy. It has been adopted by multiple school districts and is in alignment with state law.

“Our district has high standards for student behavior. It is the intention of the school board that discipline policies and procedures be implemented in a manner that supports a positive school environment, maximizes instructional time, and increases educational opportunity for all.

“The student discipline process is a learning opportunity for students to improve behavior and contribute to a safe and respectful learning environment,” Pearson added.

Student enrollment in the Clover Park district, the state’s 28th largest, stands at 35 percent Hispanic, 28 percent white, 13 percent black, and 4 percent Asian. 

According to the new policy, “culturally responsive has the same meaning as ‘cultural competency’” in accordance with state law regarding equity and cultural competency, and dismantling “institutional racism in the public school system.” 

The Democrat-sponsored law was signed by the governor in April 2021.

“Among other things, the law requires [the Washington State School Directors Association] to identify or develop and periodically update governance training programs that align with cultural competency, diversity, equity, and inclusion standards for school director governance,” according to an association June 2021 fact sheet. 

The bill provides training opportunities for school directors to increase their “personal cultural proficiency, understand the terminology, and learn about the impacts of equity, diversity, and inclusion on student outcomes.”

“Training focuses on the role of the school board and how, through policies and practices, school directors can use their leadership position in education to close the gaps in various success factors for their students.”

It also calls for the training of school district staff and superintendents as well as other education groups to promote diversity and cultural competency in the schools.

“Cultural competency includes knowledge of student cultural histories and contexts, as well as family norms and values in different cultures; knowledge and skills in accessing community resources and community and parent outreach; and skills in adapting instruction to students’ experiences and identifying cultural contexts for individual students,” the fact sheet added. 

Wagemann told The Epoch Times his goal as a school board director is to provide opportunities for students “to achieve educational competence and/or receive an excellent education.”

“Unfortunately, our board rules prevent us from giving opinions that differ from the majority vote of the board,” Wagemann said.

Allan Stein
Allan Stein is an Epoch Times reporter who covers the state of Arizona.